Endorsements: Vote for your sales tax

Support the sales tax referendum on the April 17 ballot.

Simply put: considering vehicle and mental wear, we can’t wait for another referendum to fix our roads; in all fairness, out-of-towners and renters should also pay for their use of the roads, instead of property owners carrying the entire burden; and if we want to progress, Rockford must invest in its River District core to utilize our greatest assest, the Rock River. Rim development means more driving, energy consumption and pollution, stalling tourism and the additional sales tax revenue visitors provide for even more improvements.

Hopefully, people who come to see our attractions will not echo W. C. Fields, who said, “Last week, I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed.” Also with equal hope, neither our residents nor our youth will purport another sentiment expressed by Mr. Fields: “I once spent a year in Philadelphia, I think it was on a Sunday.”

Sunday drivers and working folk know what it’s like to drive around Rockford; it sure isn’t Wisconsin. Their roads actually last, and things sure are pretty up there with plenty of great things to do. If we want the same, without the brain drain of our best and brightest departing, Rockford has to get “with it.”

Getting “with it” includes getting the “good ‘ol’ boys” to quit building roads with built-in obsolescence to continually line their pockets and empty ours. Call the State of Wisconsin and adopt their road construction standards­—exactly—then people won’t mind paying for them. Ald. Pat Curran (R-2) is right on the blacktop when he expressed his concerns about Rural Street’s deterioration, when it was only resurfaced two years ago.

The reason I mention this is because one of our “brains” that has not been “drained” out of Rockford, our Assistant Editor Brandon Reid, brought this very issue up in his editorial opposing this sales tax. His pessimism encapsulates why so many of our promising youth never stay in Rockford. For many of the young and old alike, the continual government missteps, corruption, and arrogant leadership make living in Rockford seem like a life sentence in “the biggest little town in the United States,” or “the more things change the more they remain the same.”

Rockford needs real change. Yes, that includes a Riverwalk. Yes, that includes the regional and national draw of an indoor water park utilizing the Ingersoll Building and Fordam Dam complete with reinstalled turbines to power the facility and maybe more of the River District. Yes, if we build that, the mythical downtown hotel and college will come. Yes, if we build that, the restaurants that everybody wonders why they aren’t there will be built on the Rock River. Yes, the wonders of the Discovery Center, Jane and our new Sinnissippi Garden Complex will be supported by new visitors and good roads to get them there.

We have to get out the dimes of everybody who would benefit from this, including renters and retailers who are protesting this tax.

Yes, I’m one of those property owners who is sick of paying the freight for everyone else, including the white flight group that headed to Roscoe, Rockton, Winnebago, Pecatonica, Stillman Valley, Cherry Valley and Boone County because of these very property taxes and the taxation-without-representation brought about by the school desegregation ruling. All of those folks still drive in Rockford, running back and forth to their little piece of urban-sprawl heaven. They should pay up and pay their share because they certainly share their opinions on local talk radio, in the local daily, and their rubber meets our roads. Really, they really don’t want to pay at all. Rockford residents! Tell them the bill is due! Vote for the sales tax.

Many of the same folks voted overwhelmingly for the 1 percentage point fear tax that has brought us a huge 1,212 bed-KGB-type building to the River District. That eternal tax sucked up and scares out so much of the willingness to invest in something positive because so many pounds of flesh have already been carved out of our Winnebago County treasure chests.

A few months back at Seranno’s, when asked if I was going to support the sales tax by City Administrator Jim Ryan and Morrissey adviser Jim Thacker, I replied, “Yes, but you’re going to have a much better chance of it passing if you only go for a half or quarter of a percentage point rather than the full percentage point.” At that time, I pointed out the burden of the jail tax on top of the new sales tax, obviously, to no avail. They just went for the whole big burrito. I prefer the more modest taco.

Because we’re all feeling the effect of the hot sauce, Winnebago County Board Member must reduce their full percentage point sales tax to a quarter or half. The revenue is higher than expected, and Sheriff Dick Meyers is empire-building. The KGB-sized jail will be up and running July 1, and here come the rentals to other jurisdictions (including the feds), complete with new parolees on Rockford streets. The County Board should hold hearings, look at the revenue streams, pay off the bonds quickly and set an end to their jail tax. Sunsets are beautiful.

That’s a very strong argument for passing the city’s proposed sales tax—it has a sunset clause of five years. Unlike the county’s, if we do or don’t like what the tax is doing, we get to vote on it again. Unlike the county’s sales tax, that’s fair. Let’s give ourselves a chance.

That’s a good chance for many good things, as pointed out by the city’s web site:

$1 million if bonds, payable by property taxes, cost us $1.3 million. Yes, will we not pay $300,000 in interest on top of every $1 million we spend in infrastructure investment. Let’s save ourselves some taxes.

If we keep this sales tax until 2016, we will lower the city tax rate 20 percent by eliminating that bond debt.

Instead of dumping all the burden on just the property owners, everybody pays as we go. That’s fair.

Everybody includes the 35 percent of sales taxes generated by non-Rockford residents. If we bring more tourists, that ratio increases, and at the five-year sunset clause revue, the percentage point can be lowered.

80 percent will go to roads, and we really need it.

The rest will go to flood control (remember the Labor Day Flood, which will look like a small disaster if Alpine Dam goes), the Morgan Street bridge, the Harrison Avenue railroad bridge, the Kishwaukee Street Bridge over Keith Creek, South and North Main streets, Kishwaukee, and the West State Street corridors. All of these are lousy looking gateways to our city that can carry us to further disasters or future success and pride. I’m ashamed every time I bring in a visitor via these ugly washboards, and their residents are deprived of the quality and facilities of East State, Spring Creek, Mulford, Perryville and Riverside. Fair is fair for all sections for the city. Vote for a sidewalk or alley near you, too. Those and other capital improvements will come if this sales tax passes.

Many of these projects can only be completed if we have matching federal and state funds. Let’s go for the leverage.

Yes, we have to ante up or no jackpot. I don’t know about you, but I’d like Rockford to be seen as a big-time winner, not as a gambler, but as a respected investor. We seem to have a hard time seeing five or 10 years down a lousy street. Across the Pacific, the Japanese and the Chinese don’t think in measly terms of decades; they think in terms of centuries, and we’d better be doing the same, or they are going to have more than our car sales and jobs.

Some of those capital improvements could be assistance in building homes that hardly use any electricity or natural gas—Zero Net Energy Homes. Look forward, pay forward. Saving energy comes back to you.

Otherwise, you can just sit there and continue to complain, and roads, alleys, sidewalks, bridges and dams will continue to deteriorate.

Some of the short-sighted really like to glorifully sit on what they have while they do nothing to really contribute to the long term. They just consume, kee

p well-being to themselves, and we all rot.

The supposedly loyal opposition, The Winnebago County Taxpayers Association, is a misnomer; it’s really a special-interest group.

Founded as a grassroots advocates group by Cal Ferguson and friends to fight home rule, they then moved to the honorable fight against Mahoney and company to protest the unconstitutional taxes imposed by the school desegregation ruling. If you filed your property tax protest, you got your money back through their and others’ good work.

Now, WTCA wants to keep property taxes high. Why? Ferguson and company have retired, and the group has been taken over by Tim Emert and the Road Ranger Company. Emert is the vice president of that company, owned by Dan Arnold and investor Sunil Puri, developer of First Rockford Group.

Oddly, the first instance of their involvement as the loyal opposition came in their fight against the Park District’s effort to raise their share of the property taxes. Contributing $22,000 plus to the ailing WCTA, they took over. Their last-minute campaign against the Park District (the only organization in this town that truly works and is a constant source of pride to us all), combined with the Jail Tax juggernaut led by Paul Logli, Kris Cohn and Dick Meyers, was too much for voters and the Park District’s referendum.

Using the last-minute campaign technique again, the new WCTA ambushed a poorly-presented city effort for the last sales tax referendum, and we still have our deteriorating roads.

Now, when the sales tax could actually provide some property tax relief, which was the original mission of WCTA, they are opposed.

Why? They think higher sales taxes at the gas pump will hurt them. They have garnered the financial support of 11 other retailers to go against the sales tax, raising $78,111.01 for their campaign.

While their commercials citing the higher price of ComEd’s rates, NiGas’ rates, City water and sewer rates certainly hits home, with “Enough!”, the Rockford area still has the highest prices at the gas pump out of all the surrounding communities.

In short, they want theirs, and you can’t have your roads or infrastructure development, particularly in the city core, which competes with all their investment in the rim, urban-sprawl development. That’s where people drive, drive and drive some more, right to Rockford roads!

WCTA has become the epitome of a special-interest group that opposes the public interest.

To Citizens for Rebuilding Rockford and the City of Rockford’s credit, they are more organized and have more money this time out to support the sales tax. Some of the establishment is finally seeing the shining light of the River District and a good looking Rockford. Obviously, they have their self interests at heart, too. More than 26 banks, recyclers, insurance companies, contractors, unions, developers, Realtors, individuals, and yes, other retailers have raised $111,750 for the sales tax.

If the amount of money raised and the number of groups reflect the will of the community, the sales tax should pass.

This sales tax really is good for us. Even though it will cost us initially, it will save us money in the long run and bring us a better, safer, more attractive Rockford. Please vote for the sales tax. Unlike Philadelphia, which has one of the highest crime rates in the country, I want big bragging rights about our great town. Reject the special interests’ clever and negative appeals; vote for your interests and quality of life; vote for the sales tax. Negativity can only be conquered by paying forward; and ultimately, we are paying ourselves and our children.

from the April 11-17, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!