Tuesday, July 31, 2007

And on the Flip Side

The editorial page of last Sunday's Southern Illinoisan came out with a counterveiling opinion to Gorton and Adams. Read it here. My immediate thought was that the examples they cite are close but not exactly representative of the situation here. In two of the cases cited, it was a municipal entity taxing itself for the direct benefit of its citizens and, in the third, though it's close to the situation here, a lot of the money floating around the Miner's seemed related to pork barrel politics rather than a true civic need.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Liquor Advisory Board Changes

In the hoopla over the sales tax proposal, the proposed changes in the Liquor Advisory Board have gotten short shift. It really doesn't appear that the current set up of an actual board rather than decision making authority vested in the mayor's office slows the process down. I checked with the fine folks at the C'dale Chamber of Commerce and found no complaints regarding the current set-up of the board from any members as far as how long it takes to get a liquor permit approved. The longest time reported for a permit was about 2 months, with most people applying for one getting it approved or not in about 20 days.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Talking 'bout a Referendum

Guest editorial in the Sunday Southern Illinoisan by Carbondale (and Arbor District) residents D. Gorton and Jane Adams, calling for a referendum on the sales tax proposal, rather than leaving it up to a City Council vote.

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Smoke 'em if You've Got 'em

Considering what happened when Carbondale passed an underage bar entry ban a decade or so ago, the upcoming smoking ban certainly has the potential to really hurt the bar business in Carbondale.

Long-time residents of Carbondale should remember the bar entry age ban passed by the City Council during the late 90s. Basically, if you weren't old enough to drink you couldn't go into a bar in Carbondale. I taught marketing at SIUC at the time so, for a research project, my students and I counted foot traffic along the Strip the weekend before the ban went into place and for three weekends afterward. We counted both Friday and Saturday nights, from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m.

The number of people along the Strip dropped about 45% from the weekend before the ban to the weekend after and stayed at that level the following 2 weekends. A follow up count two months later showed foot traffic still off about 40%. Anecdotally, I heard a number of stories from students about private bars built in the basements of houses rented by students. One students estimated there were at least 20 of these private bars in the area between S. University and S. Poplar. I haven't done or seen any more recent research since then, but I have not seen foot traffic during those hours approach anything close to what it was pre-ban.

I don't think the exodus will be as drastic as that caused by the underage drinking ban, since smoking has declined in the US by small but steady percentages over the past decade. However, I would expect to see creation of private "smoking lounges" in homes and a corresponding drop off in bar traffic.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

CoC Getting in on the Act

Looks like the C'dale Chamber of Commerce is taking an interest in the sales tax portion of the agenda from last week's city. Executive Director Meredith Rhodes sent out an email to all CoC members asking them to read over Mayor Cole's proposal and send feedback to the Chamber by August 3rd to present to the Chamber BoD on the 14, a week before the City Council meets to vote on the tax.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Comments on the Sales Tax

The following is from an email sent out to Arbor District email list and is posted here with D. Gorton's permission. Be sure to read the included email responses from Mayor Cole and Councilman Fritzler detailing their positions and , in the case of Councilman Fritzler, raising questions. The link to the proposal is also included, which is nice, because I couldn't find the darn thing when I looked on the city website:


We have been soliciting comment about the proposed sales tax increase that was put forward by Mayor Brad Cole and City Manager Jeff Doherty (http://www.ci.carbondale.il.us/QuickInfo/proposal_toinvest.html). Following are responses by Mayor Brad Cole and Councilman Joel Fritzler. The proposal is on the City Council agenda for mid August.

In addition I see that a lively discussion is going on at the local blog, Carbondale Bytelife (http://www.landolinkin.us/carbondale/bytelife/)

Brad Cole:

In response to your questions.....

The proposal that I have put forward is quite comprehensive and is spelled out in fair detail. It can be accessed on-line at the city's website for anyone that wants to do so.

When this has been considered in the past, a referendum was not taken (ie, the high school). The City Council has the jurisdiction to approve increases in sales tax. The County held a referendum for their sales tax because that is the only way for them to approve one, and it must be for public safety purposes. Their referendum did not pass, although it did pass with a majority in Carbondale. This told me that the citizens of Carbondale, in general, might support use of a sales tax for public safety issues. Public safety is a large portion of the proposal I have submitted, by way of both police and fire pension costs and construction of a new fire station and as a back up funding source to build the new police station (if federal dollars do not come in).

You stated that sales taxes have increased 14% in the past three years..... that is on the revenue side. The rate hasn't gone up, the amount of money coming in has gone up. We budget for these increases and that's what covers our increased expenses annually, too.

As for "raising taxes for things inside the city," I think we have to consider SIU as "inside the city." If we don't, one day it won't be and there will be no city. They need our help, that is no secret. Maybe this is or is not the best way to provide help, but it is "a" way and that's what I'm proposing. You also mentioned the use of sales tax to pay for things like the building inspectors. We thought about that, but we look at that as a fee for service and so we are proposing the inspection fee to cover those costs, so they are borne by the people who require the services, the property owners/managers.

I do not know of any other city that has done anything like this for a public university. Marion raised their sales tax to support the private baseball stadium and many, many other communities have done the same for privately owned sporting complexes. This is different in that it is publicly owned, by the state, instead of privately owned and operated for profit. There were also no other communities that had a sales tax for school purposes until we did ours for the high school project; now I think there are several and people use us as a model.

Those are my thoughts now to respond to some of your questions. Let me know how I can provide more information or answer other specific questions. Thanks.


Joel Fritzler:


There definitely should be a public referendum to decide issues such as this
one. When I lived in Oregon, there were at least a half a dozen referendums
during each election. However, here in Illinois referendums seem to be a
rarity and I'm not sure why. Do you know why?

As you pointed out, there are a number of city projects/programs that have
been waiting on the shelf due to the lack of or redirecting of funds.

When Brad first told me about possibly raising the sales tax for multiple
purposes, I told him that I could support it for the police station and
other municipal projects but not to fund a state project such as sports
facilities. I haven't spoken to anyone on either side of the political
fence that supports raising the municipal sales tax to pay for a state

SIU students are responsible for a larger portion of the sales tax that the
city collects. Last year, the sales tax for on-campus purchases was
increased 1% when SIU annexed property into the city under threat of losing
fire protection. This action took place while the students were on a break.
A vote is planned for the new proposed sales tax increase when the students
will be in a transitional period. With the substantial increase to student
fees, an increase in the sales tax would be unfair.

In the last four years, I've had my phone tax, gas tax, and sales tax (for
on-campus purchases) raised by the city council. I wasn't on the council to
vote on the first item but I voted "no" on the last two issues. In the last
few years, I've only missed a few Saluki football & basketball games. It
would be great to have a new football stadium and a remodeled basketball
arena but I don't believe that using city funds to pay for them is the


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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

University Mall Expansion

Was talking with a friend who works out at University Mall. Apparently, they don't have enough retail space (That's sarcasm) so the plan is to pull down the Gator Tire building (at the east end of the mall building and put in a strip mall perpendicular to Bed Bath and Beyonde this may be the trend with malls nationwide, given the amount of empty space the last time I was out there, especially in the food court wing, adding on additional retail space just doesn't make a lot of sense.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Effect of Sports Facilities on Local Economies

One of the reasons offered for the 1/2% sales tax increase is that events at McAndrew and the Arena draw people into Carbondale where they spend money. While that is true, most research indicates that, despite the claims of the promoters, upgrading or replacing a currently existing sports facility has little effect on the economy of the community. See here, here, here and here.

If we want to donate money to help renovate McAndrew and the Arena as a sign of commitment and solidarity with SIUC, that's one thing. Position the tax increase that way. However, viewing the renovations as a direct economic benefit for Carbondale is not born out by the evidence or the opinion of most economists.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Where's the Money Going?

If either of the two tax proposals goes through (Yes Virginia, there are two possible taxes proposed), here's where the money's going:

1. Public Safety Center--to be built on the site where the old Lincoln School stood. This will house the Carbondale Police Department, Fire Department Administration, Emergency Management Services and SIUC Department of Public Safety. Apparently, the city is looking for federal funding for this. If we can't get it, the preliminary estimate for the city footing the bill is $6.2 million.

2. Westside Fire Station. Due to growth of the city, "the one at the corner of Oakland and Walnut has become obsolete", is not built to earthquake standards and will likely collapse if an earthquake hits. Cost of a new station further west is $1.25 million.

3. Development of open pace including bikeways, greenways and sidewalks plus a $35,000 one time grant to the park District for improvements at the Carbondale LIFE Community Center. Total money devoted to this, $500,000.

4. Saluki Way This is the big one, kids. $20 million over the next 20 years to help fund renovations at the SIU Arena and the replacement of McAndrew Stadium. Estimate cost for both: $80 million. $38 million is coming from student fees. Apparently, as noted earlier this week, SIUC doesn't have any other large donors lined up, the city will be the first and hopefully other private sources will follow in our footsteps.

Total cost for the whole shebang, $28 million bucks.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sheila Simon Not So Dumb After All

Apparently the city budget, which was one of the issues in last April's election, won't be in as good a shape as was believed last spring. The letter sent out by the city Tuesday give more detail on the 1/2 % increase in the sales tax. While most of the news focused on the proposals funded with monies from the new tax, the letter indicates, without a new revenue source, Carbondale's general fund balance decreases every year from 2008 through 2012(Below in Excel). This is mainly due to contributions to the Carbondale Fire Pension Fund, Police Pension Fund and Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. Most municipalities "levy a property tax to pay for employee pension costs. However, with no property tax levy, the City of Carbondale has absorbed the increase employee pension costs with the general revenues of the General Fund."

Plus, there are other expenditures such as general maintenance and pay increases that the city has to cover. Without some source of additional funding, and not even including pension liabilities, revenues will exceed expenditures in 2012 by one thousand six hundred and ninety one dollars. While the General Fund will still have in excess of $4 million in it, its balance will have dropped a projected $2.4 million over the five year period.

Upload FileGeneralbudget.xls

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Southern Illinois Sales Taxes

In today's Southern, Caleb Hale looks at how the proposed sales tax increase compares with other cities in the region. If the tax goes through, Carbondale's rate would be second highest in the region, beaten out by DuQuoin. He looks at Paducah and Cape Girardeau's rates (6% and 7.5% respectively) but no mention of Carbondale's major trading competitor, Marion.

In the article, City Manager Jeff Doherty has an interesting take on student importance to the economy:

"Obviously the SIU students are a significant part of the economy, but the city of Carbondale is also a regional trade center,"

Would Carbondale be a regional trade center without the students or would we be more the size of Murphysboro?

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Left the letter at home so no analysis of the Mayor's proposal today. However, I see from today's DE that a good chunk of the proposed sales tax, $20 million over 20 years, will go to fund the athletic portion of the Saluki Way project, the stadium and Arena. The rationale is that Carbondale derives significant economic benefit from Saluki athletics through people stying in hotels and eating at restaurants while attending sporting and other events, so helping SIUC draw more people to them puts more dollars in Carbondale coffers. Imagine what would happen if the money went towards building the university as a whole. But I digress.

The city is promising $20 million, assuming the sales take passes City Council. That's abut 25 % of the estimated cost. Student fees cover another $38 million (wasn't Saluki Way supposed to be funded through donations, with little reliance on student fees, rather like the way Iraq was supposed to pay for its own rebuilding?) which takes care of another 47% of the cost. That leaves 36% of the cost, or 22 million to come from private donations, or potential private donations. From the wording of the store, it appears the university has made little headway in raising private money for the project.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Death and Taxes

Only sat in on last night's city council meeting for half a hour, during the discussion on whether or not to impose a $5 late fee if you don't pay your water bill on time ( it passed but only after some references to Hooterville and Green Acres by a member of the audience and angst from Councilman Lance Jack about the imposition of a late fee equaling 25% of the average water bill. In absolute terms, it's only the price of a pack of cigarettes or a tasty pizza from Little Ceasar's).

Apparently I missed the fun stuff: a proposal to increase Carbondale sales taxes by 1/2% and a motion by Mayor Cole to make himself liquor tsar as those topics dominated front pages of the Daily Egyptian, Carbondale Times (which still hasn't made it online) and Southern Illinoisan today. Needless to say, the liquor issue made the front page of the DE while the sales tax issue got above the fold on the Southern.

Anybody else remember the last election, you know, the one where Sheila Simon said we might need to look at reinstating the property tax Mayor Cole had worked to eliminate, the election where Mayor Cole said we were in such good financial shape that there was no need to even reconsider the property tax. Well, guess what, according to a letter Mayor Cole just sent out, apparently there's a need either for a property or sales tax increase. More on that after I get a chance to read through the letter.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Our Litigious Society--Cardinals Edition

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in an April
car crash after he collided with a stopped tow truck on Interstate 64
in the middle of the night, and according to a police report,
Hancock was intoxicated, speeding, un-seat-belted, and talking on
his cell phone at the time. Nonetheless, in May, Hancock's father
filed a lawsuit claiming that the causes of the crash were (1) the
tow truck operator, (2) the driver who was being assisted by the
tow truck operator, and (3) the manager of the restaurant in which
Hancock had been drinking. [Houston Chronicle-AP, 5-25-07]

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ribbon Cuttings

Busy day tomorrow if you like ribbon cuttings. Elixer Hair Salon, on South Illinois next to Walk the Line shoes, has a ribbon cutting and open house at noon. Then at 4 p.m. Fujiyama Japanese Steak House will have its own ribbon cutting and open house. Contact your friendly Carbondale Chamber of Commerce for more details.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

We're Number 101, We're Number 101

According to this article in Friday's Southern Illinioisan, 101 Best Outdoor Towns by Sarah Tuff and Greg Meville ranks Carbondale as one of the best outdoor towns in America, up there with Lake Placid, NY and Taos, NM. C'dale is the only Illinois town mentioned in the book and go the nob because of our ready proximity to the Shawnee National Forest. While the article paints Mayor Cole as pretty enthused about the three pages devoted to the 'dale, Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau director Debbie Moore seems less so saying:

"I think there are travel writers that probably pay attention to those kinds of books," she said. "The spin-off from that is a positive thing."

Chris Wissman on the Springfield Mess

If you haven't read Wissman's take on the current situation in Springfield in this week's Nightlife, it's certainly worth a read. As he rightly points out, we can't blame Rep. Bost for the current situation, since the Republicans have little power in the Capitol right now. About all he can do is stir up things in the press by calling for Gov. Blago's impeachment, which ain't gonna happen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Just saw Sicko tonight and it's the best movie I've seen all year. Even if you don't like Michael Moore, you have a stake in health care in this country and the film makes some pretty powerful points. Here are showtimes for the film, which is currently showing out at the University Place 8

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Urban Trendz remodeling

I see there's some remodeling in the Urban Trendz space just north of City Hall and around the corner from Sound Core. No indication what is going in there, though.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Elixer 2 opens

Elixer 2 has opened in the space previously occupied (briefly) by Eternal Arts Tattoo on South Illinois, right next door to Walk the Line Shoes. By my count, that puts four hair salons within half a block of each other.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Downtown Farmer's Market

Is showing signs of life. There are 3-4 vendors showing up on a regular basis on Wednesday afternoons offering sweet corn, squash, tomatoes, greens, eggplant and soap (for washing up after you clean your veggies). People in the know are showing up around 3:30 to get the best selection.

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