Guest view: If you tax it, they won't come

By Joseph W. HaydenMay 4, 2014 

Glenn McCoy's cartoon "Field of schemes" was quite comical until reality set in.

Belleville has been pulling taxing schemes on its residents for decades. Most recently, the 2010-2011 wheel tax collected more than $700,000 to cover the state's cash shortfall of $600,000. While I and others led the drive to end the wheel tax, Mayor Mark Eckert and his Good Government Party majority sought an additional quarter-cent sales tax.

In 2013, the city applied for a federal COPS grant to help with the cost of placing four additional officers on the street for patrol. Eckert, during the Aug. 5, 2013, meeting, fought to extend the sales tax until 2017 by saying, "My goal is to have six more cops before the next 12 months or less." The city did not receive the grant.

Of late, Eckert tells us our priorities have changed and cops on the street are not a priority. Why did we apply for the grant in the first place? Did anyone ask the public if their priorities changed?

The public wants us to deter crime. I contend this will be accomplished with more patrolmen on the streets. This is our best hope to revitalize the city, with people buying homes, not selling, and making Belleville a shopping destination and attracting new business.

During the April 21 meeting, I tried to amend the budget to use the sales tax revenue to hire one additional patrolman. The full cost of this one officer would be much less than the city's portion of the four officers had we received the grant. My motion was defeated.

The finance director's memo to my request outlining the city's financial condition paints a crystal ball that this sales tax is not temporary but indeed will be permanent. Governments can become dependent on new cash. When will we learn that tax reduction is an economic theory that can stimulate the economy as successfully done by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan?

Tax increment financing districts are yet another taxing scheme with promises of repairs to our neighborhoods and new development spurring future growth that never come to fruition for many neighborhoods. For every $3 collected in property taxes for Belleville, $2 goes into a TIF fund. Remember, TIFs increase our taxes.

When a TIF is created, the city must file an application with the state specifying the specific goals of the TIF. Eckert has stated that a TIF is successful based merely on the increased property value. I contend the TIF should be evaluated based on the initial goals set forth when the TIF was created and the tax revenue generated to support the TIF's programs.

A loophole in the TIF law allows the transfer of money between TIFs that touch each other. Belleville uses this loophole to take money away from TIF 3 to pay for projects in other TIFs that are unable to generate the required revenue. Until I requested that these be loans, the city just outright gifted the money to other TIFs without any repayment requirements. The cash extorted from TIF 3 in recent years could have bought the new police station with cash in hand.

It's time our leaders stand up and represent the citizens who overwhelmingly requested more police on the streets and repairs to the city's infrastructure. We cannot attract new growth or retain the existing population and businesses without changing the perception of crime and without fixing the streets.

It's time we prioritize our budget, rid ourselves of tax schemes and be truthful with our residents.

Joseph W. "Joe" Hayden, an alderman in Belleville's Ward 5, has a master's degree in public administration.

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