Strong retail top priority for Allison
Vernon Hills Village Manager Mike Allison has been with the village since 1998. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2013 4:47PM
VERNON HILLS — With April municipal elections approaching, we sat down with village managers to ask about issues facing their community. Mike Allison has been Vernon Hills’ village manager since 1998.
Q. Can you briefly describe the top issues or goals Vernon Hills faces?
A. One challenge is to identify the size of this organization going forward, and having the right size for the needs our residents want. The community is changing and so are its demands. The mayor worked real hard to get affordable senior living in Vernon Hills.
Another good goal is to keep the sales tax strong and the retail sector vibrant. We got an unofficial word that Walmart is moving, so that’s going to be a big hole at some point.
Q. Given the economy, how would you describe Vernon Hills’ fiscal situation?
A. We are in good financial shape and we pass balanced budgets every year, except when we did a few capital projects and those were planned for.
We’ve been able to add to our reserves in recent years by being pretty conservative on the expenses and thanks to revenues picking up. We’re not where we were in 2007 before the crash, but revenue has been improving.
Q. How is the state’s pension situation affecting Vernon Hills, if at all?
A. The state pension system itself and its funding problems do not impact us, but legislation does. The state legislature should not improve pension benefits because that raises the cost for us.
Q. What is Vernon Hills doing to promote economic development?
A. We’ve got six sales-tax-sharing agreements since 2009 to incentivize retailers to relocate here. It’s worked. Mariano’s Fresh Market is a great example, so is Dick’s Sporting Goods at Hawthorn Hills. All the agreements work a little differently, but the basics involve rebating a certain amount of additional sales tax revenue over a period of time to help offset some challenge. We’re currently working with Westfield Hawthorn Mall to get them moving with some projects. They need to look at some contracts and we need to analyze what makes sense to rebate them. That’s a challenge because they’re a very important piece to our economy. They’re about 35 percent of our gross retail square footage in the village.
Q. Do you think Vernon Hills is doing a good job conducting its business transparently?
A. We got a pretty high score on a transparency study by the Illinois Policy Institute. Almost anything you might want to know can be found on our website, and we plan to overhaul it soon and make it even better and easier to navigate. We also videotape our meetings for cable broadcast and YouTube postings.