Council prepares to sell voters on sales tax increase

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116966609720251.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Concerned property taxpayers sent their message to the Rockford City Council.‘);

The Rockford City Council’s Finance and Personnel Committee voted 3-2 to put a 1 percent sales tax increase before the full council Jan. 22. If the council agrees, a referendum will be put to voters on the April ballot.

The penny increase would generate an estimated $16 million a year for public infrastructure improvements.

“We’re convinced that it’s the best use of public dollars for the repair and maintenance of our infrastructure,” Finance and Personnel Chairman Ald. John Beck (R-12) said, “which has really been falling behind for many years.”

Although in favor of taking the burden off property taxes, Ald. Joe Sosnowski (R-1) would have preferred only a three-quarter cent increase since a 1 percent referendum failed last March.

“It needs to be the three-quarter percent,” Sosnowski stressed. “Generating $12 million, we can certainly agree that that’s more than we’ve had in the past.”

Sosnowski was, however, encouraged by the ideas of repealing Rockford’s vehicle sticker ordinance and placing a five-year sunset clause on the tax increase.

“If it doesn’t succeed, or the voters aren’t happy with it after that time period, it can certainly be not renewed.” Sosnowski explained. “I think that certainly solves that issue of trust.”

Beck also hopes eliminating vehicle stickers will be a selling point for the referendum.

“Obviously, it wasn’t enough last year to get it passed, so you can’t just rely on that, but I certainly think that it’s important,” Beck noted. “It’s not been a fair tax, and I just think there’s a better way to do it.”

Beck added the city will have to do a better job of getting its message out than it did for last March’s defeated referendum.

“I really believe that last time around, a lot of voters didn’t really understand all of the benefits for using the sales tax and the negatives of using the property tax,” Beck asserted. “We’ve approved a funding source that will take the funding off of the property taxes and put it onto a tax that everybody gets to help pay for.”

In response to residents voting down the March sales tax referendum, Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) proposed an alternative, to issue $10 million in bonds to fund road improvements Jan. 16. The bonds would be backed by property taxes, which taxpayers say are already too high.

During the committee meeting, Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6) suggested both matters be put to voters in April.

City Administrator Jim Ryan told Jacobson, however, the last time something like that had been done was in 1987, and both matters failed.

Holt’s proposal has been laidover indefinitely, and is not likely to be discussed.

“I can’t help but say no to the 1 percent,” Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) stated before referring to en e-mail she’d received from a constituent. “We’re elected to come up with different ways to find money for different things that our city needs. I think the 1 percent is an easy way out.”

In addition to favoring Holt’s $10 million bond alternative, McNeely questioned the need for a full penny increase and expressed concern the revenues generated would be going toward things other than road improvements.

Ald. Sosnowski made a motion to go with the three-quarter cent sales tax increase but couldn’t garner a second.

“Tonight, as you set to vote for this 1 percent,” McNeely told her fellow aldermen in committee, “I hope that you attach to this not only the time limitation, but I hope you attach to this that it only goes for streets.”

Jacobson agreed with McNeely that the funds should be earmarked only for certain projects.

Ald. Bill Timm (R-9), Beck and Jacobson were able to push the original 1-cent increase through to the full council, with McNeely and Sosnowski voting against it.

Beck anticipates a vote by the full council Jan. 29 to put the 1 percent sales tax referendum on the April ballot.

From the Jan. 24-30, 2007, issue

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