Morrissey on the issues

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116966617716459.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) defended his proposed sales tax referendum for road improvements.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116966622520119.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Human Services Director George Davis hopes to help flood victims who are not eligible for SBA loans.‘);

In a sparsely attended Jan. 18 media briefing, Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) responded, often candidly, to questions a range of issues facing Rockford.

The referendum

“I could support either a three-quarter cent or a 1 cent sales tax referendum to our voters,” Morrissey indicated. “A year ago, when we gave that option to our council, the council voted unanimously to put it on the ballot.”

Morrissey said he could live with the three-quarter cent increase, but noted that would mean $4 million less going toward infrastructure improvements.

“Those are things that I could live with if we could shift away from our very disproportionate burden that we’ve put on the property taxpayers in Rockford,” the mayor explained.

Jan. 16, 11th Ward Ald. Jeff Holt (D) introduced a resolution to issue $10 million in road bonds as an alternative to Morrissey’s sales tax increase. Holt’s plan would equate to higher property taxes.

Asked about Holt’s resolution, Morrissey responded: “I’m against raising property taxes. Let’s be very clear about it. He’s supporting raising property taxes. I’m not. Our property taxes are too high, and I think he’s pandering to a select group of very narrow interests. He didn’t come talk to me before his presentation.

“I think he had it right last year when he voted to support the sales tax,” the mayor added. “I think it’s still the right thing.”

Holt believes his resolution respects the message voters sent 10 months ago when they voted down a similar sales tax road referendum.

The Winnebago County Taxpayer Advocates (WCTA), through an effective television ad campaign, were instrumental in defeating the sales tax increase last March. The WCTA has already kicked off its campaign against the next referendum, before one’s even been placed on the ballot. The City of Rockford has not responded.

“One of the big arguments is Dan Arnold [WCTA member and Road Ranger chain co-owner] saying he’s gonna lose business,” Morrissey acknowledged. “Does Dan only own gas stations in Rockford? Take a drive around Loves Park and Machesney Park and Belvidere. Guess what? He owns gas stations there, too. So, statistically, how much leakage is he gonna have?”

The Rockford mayor argued high property taxes, not high sales tax, are driving people from Rockford to neighboring communities.

Morrissey added a number of matching grants await a seemingly unwilling Rockford.

“The state’s ready, the federal government’s ready,” the mayor explained, “but we’re not.”

In defense of his sales tax approach, Morrissey argued out-of-towners should help pay for the roads they’re using, and he hopes the five-year sunset clause will be enough to win the trust of voters this time.

MetroCentre and IceHogs

“We’re trying to come to what we hope will be a win-win situation for all parties involved,” Morrissey reported. “You know, at the end of the day, the goal is to have a more efficiently run operation, following a good business model that maximizes revenue and minimizes some of the costs, and that will likely involve some creative joint venture between the MetroCentre and the current IceHogs organization.

“One of the nice things about the proposal for the AHL (American Hockey League) is that the agreement would lock in the costs of operation over 10 years at a fixed amount,” the mayor said. “Right now, with the UHL (United Hockey League)…They’re not fixed.

“The problem with the UHL,” Morrissey argued, “if they went belly-up in a year and a half, who would be left holding the bag? I’d rather have a guaranteed lease.”

Help for flood victims

“We were obviously turned down by the federal government for flood assistance,” Morrissey reported. “Ironically, we received money for snow disaster assistance. So, it’s been my suggestion to the council that we take whatever money we get from the snow disaster assistance and program it into a disaster assistance fund for our flood victims. In addition to that money, we’d like to add some money from our Community Development Department that might otherwise be eligible for flood victims, because it would otherwise be programmed for various housing assistance anyway, and we can just focus it on the flood program.”

Human Services Executive Director George Davis hopes as much as $1 million can be pooled together to serve about 200 homes still in need of furnace, hot water heater or electrical repair or replacement.

The pre-requisite to qualify for the funds would be a letter of rejection from the ongoing Small Business Administration (SBA) loan application process taking place at the Human Services Department, 612 N. Church St.

The Flood Disaster Relief Program is aimed at assisting flood victims who were denied SBA loans.

Rockford's riverfront

“We are at risk right now of jeopardizing the speed at which we’re able to do riverfront projects,” the mayor said, referencing aldermen who oppose spending money on riverfront development. “We received a grant of nearly $2 million from the State of Illinois that requires a local match. If we don’t match it, we don’t get the money.”

Morrissey noted the importance of having a good relationship with private development.

“We, as the public sector, have to do our part to be credible partners, and that’s why investing in some of this design and engineering work on the riverfront is so important,” the mayor stressed. “If we focus and invest, we can, and will, show a return on that investment, and we simply haven’t done that in the past on our riverfront.”

Asked where the historic National Guard Armory will fit into the big picture, Morrissey seemed to indicate the recently acquired Armory’s future is still very much up in the air, but that it fits right in with the museum campus.

“If we could do something using tax increment financing and be creative without raising taxes for our community as a whole, I’d be very for exploring that type of thing, and I think we’ve got some great partners over at the museum campus,” said Morrissey. “They’re excited about working with us to make something like that happen. It would be a great value, a great bargain, relatively speaking, if you could take advantage of things like historic preservation tax credits.”

Downstate lobbying

“If you’re going to do it as a community and be effective as a region lobbying, certainly we want to rely upon our state reps and state senators and the U.S. delegation as well,” Morrissey said of his recent efforts to increase representation at the Capitol. “We need to have a coordinated effort that can work with those folks as part of an overall team approach to getting more done for Rockford, Ill.”

From the Jan. 24-30, 2007, issue

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