Not so fast on making Belleville sales tax permanent

July 11, 2013 

Belleville is reminding the public, again, that there is no such thing as a temporary tax.

Residents will be able to weigh in at a public hearing on July 29 about whether the city should keep collecting the 1/4-cent sales tax, which is scheduled to sunset on Dec. 31. But even before hearing what the public has to say, Mayor Mark Eckert has announced he wants to make the tax permanent.

Eckert said part of the proceeds would be used to add four police officers, partially paid with a federal grant. City residents have made it clear that public safety is their top priority, so that would be a logical use of the money if the tax is collected.

However, the numbers don't add up. The city collected $1.2 million from the additional sales tax last year, so that potentially would be $4.8 million in general fund revenue over four years. By comparison, the city's share of the federal grant would be about $500,000 for the first three years, then 100 percent of the salaries the fourth year. That means the city would be putting in around $1 million of the $4.8 million toward enhanced public safety. The difference would pad the general fund.

Eckert said the state is making more timely payments to the city now than when the tax was first enacted; the city also now has revenue from video gambling machines. Those improvements help make the case that if the tax is kept, it should be on a temporary, rather than a permanent, basis. At least then elected officials would have to discuss it and vote again in a few years.

This and other questions and concerns need to be discussed ahead of a City Council vote on extending the tax. We hope the aldermen will reserve judgment until they hear from the people.

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