Guest Column: Call to action: Sales tax proposal

As prepared for presentation by Rockford Mayor Lawrence J. Morrissey at the State of the City Address (March 8, 2006)

During recent City Council hearings on the 2006 budget, it became abundantly clear that the city’s past practices for paying for roads and other infrastructure improvements had hit a dead end.

Our citizens have voluntarily agreed, year after year, to raise their own city taxes to fund road improvements. We have also continued to require the purchase of a city vehicle sticker for the privilege of driving on our local roads.

In doing so, we have raised our local municipal property tax rate to one of the very highest in the state while folks who live near Rockford, but out of town, who still drive on our roads, pay none of those taxes.

Well, that’s the bad news. The good news is that the council unanimously agreed to put on the ballot this spring a proposal to fund capital investment in our businesses and neighborhoods without raising property taxes anymore.

The proposal is to pay for capital improvements through a 1 percent sales tax, so we can invest in infrastructure without increasing our city’s property tax rate. Even with the city rate of 8.25 percent, our city would be at the same sales tax rate as 20 other communities throughout the state and lower than 46 other communities.

For the first time, the burden of paying for infrastructure would be supported, in part, by non-residents who shop in Rockford. Approximately 35 percent of sales revenues we receive comes from outside Rockford.

The 1 percent proposal would decrease the city property tax by 20 percent by 2016, restoring the Rockford city property tax rate back to 1985 levels.

This proposal would also allow us to eliminate the vehicle sticker starting in 2007.

And the bottom line is that we would get an additional $3 million for infrastructure projects while city taxpayers, as a group, would pay an estimated $1 million less each year to 2016 than what we currently pay.

This 1 percent sales tax would not apply to groceries, prescription and non-prescription drugs, or titled vehicles such as automobiles and motorcycles.

We want to join those other successful communities who recognize that a higher sales tax that is partially paid for by non-residents helps hold the line on property tax increases, and allows them to invest in their infrastructure and be a progressive city.

I urge your support of this 1 percent capital proposal on March 21. We have delivered on our promise to build projects with your tax dollar in past road referendums, and we hope that you will continue to recognize the importance of this infrastructure investment in your community.

From the March 15-21, 2006, issue

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