After the July 29 special finance meeting, I got feedback from many residents and business owners. The majority of these citizens said that 0.25 percent sales tax has not hurt them or their business, and they would prefer to extend the tax in order to hire more police officers. Director of Finance Jamie Maitret stated at the meeting that both sales and sales tax have been up over the past year and a half, thereby proving that the tax has not negatively impacted business in Belleville.
Business owners and residents overwhelmingly stated that they prefer more police officers to repealing the tax.
Between the special finance meeting and the City Council meeting, numerous residents reported receiving robo-calls referring to the tax. These calls appeared to have confused the issue of extending the 0.25 percent sales tax, as aldermen heard from residents about unrelated issues such as property taxes, which the city does not levy for police and fire services. Let the facts state:
* This is not a new tax. It's a continuation of a tax that began January 2012.
* The city received 25 cents for every $100 spent on non-essential goods.
* This tax is not collected on groceries, medical drugs, gas, vehicles, etc.
* Both residents and non-residents of Belleville are taxed for their use of city services.
Prior to the Aug. 5, City Council meeting, approximately 14 people orchestrated a rally outside of City Hall. The BND stated about half of them were not from Belleville; the remainder were the same half-dozen people who appear to disapprove on a number of topics. At the meeting, there was a strong showing of approximately 20 Belleville police officers and firemen. Per the same BND article, they were there in support of hiring additional police officers.
As elected city officials, it is our responsibility to represent and make tough decisions for the citizens of Belleville. The safety of our community must remain our No. 1 priority. Although we would all like to hire 10 additional police officers, it is imperative that we make sure we can pay for and sustain their salaries, benefits and equipment well into the future.
On Monday, the City Council will face one last vote on the 0.25 percent sales tax extension. The official city ordinance must be approved so that it can be sent to the state of Illinois. I ask that everyone do the right thing and support the hiring of additional police officers through the extension of the sales tax for the next four years. This will allow the City Council to further evaluate and grow our great city.
Mark W. Eckert is mayor of Belleville.