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:

Neighbors,

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.


BRAD COLE, Mayor


Joel Fritzler:

D


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
project.

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
answer.

Joel

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Comments:
First of all, don't believe it when people say students would be forced to pay the majority of this tax. Students don't buy cars, home appliances and the like. Major purchases are made by local residents, including thousands from surrounding communities who shop at Walmart, Best Buy, the car dealerships, the new sporting goods store, etc.

Second, those people in Carbondale who make a pretty nice living off SIU and its students need to put some pressure on Mr. Fritzler and other council members. One of these days SIU is going to wake up and flex its "without SIU, there ain't much of a Carbondale" muscle. When it does, people like Mr. Fritzler will be lucky to even see the inside of city hall.
 
Mr. Fritzler,
Why would you need a referendum? I thought the purpose of electing city officials was to make these types of decicions. Toto, you're not in Oregon!
 
Slam,

It is true that we elect representatives to make decisions, but, normally, we have some indication of their perspective when we vote for them.

In the mayoral race, Simon made some claims that the city was starting to overspend its revenues, but Cole claimed that we were fine.

Pohlmann also mentioned possible need for decreasing expenditures or increasing revenue, but the state of city finances was really not a major issue in the recent spring election.

Definitely, no one mentioned a city tax to spend on the university.

So, when no one has campaigned on these issues, it is difficult to tell if they were elected because of their position on a tax increase or university support.

That is why a referendum might be more indicative of citizen perspective on something like this.
 
Lets pretend that SIU is a private employer, something like a big manufacturng plant, or even a high tech Silicon Valley type place. Let's pretend that instead of 7,000 employees it had only 1,000. What would happen if this company needed some help with its infrastructure? Why the city, and its elected officials, would be falling all over themselves supporting something like an increase in the sale tax, or some other similar revenue stream for this company. "We've got to save those jobs, and help this company which has been so good to our city and this region," would be the battle cry. So why aren't these politicians doing the same for SIU? I just don't get it.
 
Each individual citizen makes up their mind as to what they are willing to support (pay for) for public services. Whatever the majority wants (hopefully) is what then happens.

As for me, I believe that legitimate functions of municipal government are streets, water and sanitation, and police protection.

I do not believe that the city taxpayers should be subsidizing either another governmental entity or a private enterprise.
 
I traveled throughout southern Illinois and Western Kentucky for two years and visited every community with a hospital. I was retail selling in each community therefore I needed to know the correct sales tax in each community. After calling city halls, banks and my contacts at the hospitals I found that on a regular basis (nearly never) did anyone know what sales tax they paid in their community. I tried stopping a stores and asking clerks who due to the electronic cash registers also did not know.
I gave up and started making a purchase in each town so that I would know the correct sales tax to charge. Only once was I ask by a customer the amount of sales tax I was charging, I did know the answer.
What this proves is that most people are indifferent to the amount of sales tax they are paying. I wish I would have ask
if they knew what the sales tax was being collected for and what it was being spent on, but I did not.
I am in support of this sales tax it is a very small amount. The most noticable differenct will be on car sales and I think I can get the dealer to come down to make the sale.
These are all good projects that we should support. I encourage everyone not to judge there position based on how the feel about the Mayor. I do not like him as a person but I do agree with the sales tax and the proposed programs that it is to fund.
I estimate I spend 99% of my money in Carbondale the other 1% is for vacation. Ths will not change if the tax is approved.
A new police station and better streets and more greenspace will make Carbondale safer and more attractive. Saluki Way is necessary in order to keep the athletic program on top and gaining the great promotion of SIU on a national level. If you are not a sports fan you will not agree. This program brings people to town and I want them to keep coming.
Once again, let's not make this about the Mayor and Councilmen Fritzler's ongoing spat.
 
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