Your Dec. 15 editorial, “Belleville Generous with Others’ Money,” demonstrates how little you know about Illinois statutory law governing property taxes for pensions and General and Community Assistance. The Belleville News-Democrat Editorial Board does a disservice to this community when it fails to check facts.
Let’s clear up a few errors from your editorial. First, you said that Belleville city leaders decided they needed more property taxes for pensions. Actually, decisions about property taxes for public safety pensions are determined based upon actuarial calculations as required by the Illinois Pension Code.
Your reference to our “new charity duties” implies that we provide charity — voluntarily giving money to a worthy cause. General Assistance programs are governed and required by the Illinois Public Aid Code. When the citizens of Belleville recently met with their elected officials to discuss the tax levy that supports this mandated program, it was at an official meeting. We weren’t having a chat, as you stated. Where were you? You were not sitting with the informed citizens who took the time to attend. You didn’t call City offices to ask for information. If you had, you would know that the $264,375 you mention as supporting new “charity duties” is in fact the previous tax levy line item from Belleville Township. It is the amount that represents the savings expected from the transition. The only change seen for that line item is that Belleville Township now is listed as General and Community Assistance. Our taxpayers have no tax increase for this transition.
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There is a general fund that provides up to $245 (not $255 as you erroneously wrote) of assistance to qualified Belleville residents each month. Most of these people are waiting for their Social Security disability or SSI to be processed. They cannot work due to physical or mental conditions. They receive more than a few gift cards for food and necessities. They may get assistance with rent, utilities, bills, bus passes or budget management. They are linked to area social services that can offer them other forms of assistance. Those who need jobs are given assistance with finding work. Regardless of their needs, they get encouragement and respect. They are our neighbors and we help them.
There also is a Town Fund that offers funding to community programs that assist the poor and elderly (also per Illinois statutory law). Funding has been provided to assist with emergency sheltering of the homeless during extreme weather, to support programs and services for older persons, to strengthen programming for disadvantaged children, and to assist other qualifying programs.
The reserve account has not been touched to date.
The City has been conservative in our approach to managing the General and Community Assistance funds, duties and responsibilities. What we have been and will continue to be generous with is assistance, compassion, respect, and kindness in the administration of our duties as in accordance with Illinois law. We will strive to do what is right for all of the citizens of Belleville. I ask that you do the same.
Mark W. Eckert is mayor of Belleville.