City Council ‘scrapes’ vehicle stickers

“It’s gone,” declared Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) following a unanimous Feb. 5 City Council vote to repeal the city’s long-standing vehicle sticker ordinance.

The tax has existed since 1918, when horses and buggies ruled Rockford streets. The latest version was imposed to reforest Rockford as a result of the Dutch elm disease that struck in the 1950s.

Rockford drivers aren’t off the hook yet, however. The latest batch of vehicle stickers, commemorating Cheap Trick’s Rockford album, went on sale Feb. 1 and will be required through the end of the year.

As of Jan. 1, 2008, City of Rockford vehicle stickers will be no more.

“It was, I think, a really significant move by our council,” Morrissey said. “What it really tells our voters is that we’re very serious about moving away from inequitable taxes, like our vehicle sticker that simply wasn’t enforced uniformly.”

The council’s gesture is hoped to win support for a 1 percentage point sales tax increase on the April 17 ballot, and the mayor and aldermen took every opportunity to sell it to voters.

“The sales tax approach is better because it gets the 35 percent of the folks who shop in Rockford who don’t currently pay property tax,” Morrissey remarked. “They’re the ones that will start to help us pay for our roads.”

If approved, the tax would generate an estimated $16 million annually for five years to fund capital improvements.

“This is a momentous day that this action is being taken by this council,” Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) told fellow aldermen. Mark noted the cost of his family’s vehicle stickers totals $75 this year.

“I would have to spend $7,500,” Mark explained, “to equate this on a 1 percent sales tax.”

Last March’s failed road referendum dangled sticker repeal before voters if the sales tax increase had been approved.

“This is not conditional,” Morrissey explained. “Last year, there was conditional discussion. There was never a formal vote.”

The stickers generate $1.3 million a year for city road repairs.

Asked what the result of repealing the ordinance will be should the April 17 referendum fail, the mayor responded: “A significant problem. There’s no free lunch. We have to be able to pay for our infrastructure.”

“I think we have a lot of work to do now, as a council, to make sure that ballot initiative is well-understood by our community,” Morrissey said, “so that they understand this is about Rockford’s future. It’s about investment in the capital infrastructure that will help grow our community and grow our economy.”

The matter was nearly laid over, per parliamentary procedure, until Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) made a motion to bring it to an immediate vote.

“Let’s just get the decision on the vehicle stickers done and over with tonight,” Holt joked, “and then the media doesn’t have to come back next week to report that we repealed the vehicle sticker again.”

With the mayor and aldermen banking on voter support in April, the council hopes its Feb. 5 vote will help re-establish public trust.

“It shows that we are serious about what we do here,” Mark concluded. “And what we’re trying to accomplish for the community and for our roads.”

From the Feb. 7-13, 2007, issue

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