St. Clair County officials make their case for sales tax referendums
Business leaders Wednesday heard how two sales tax proposals on April’s ballot could booster public safety and help provide property tax relief.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly and Belleville School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier spoke at a Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce Issues and Eggs forum about sales tax hike proposals on the April ballot. The forum was at Bellacourt Place.
One sales tax increase is a 1-cent hike to bolster public safety in St. Clair County in an effort to enhance law enforcement and firefighting capabilities. Another 1-cent sales tax increase would go toward school facilities in the county. Neither sales tax would apply toward groceries, medication or titled vehicles. The public safety sales tax would sunset after 12 years if voters approve the measure.
Each tax would produce an estimated $22million in new tax revenue.
During his comments on Wednesday, Kelly said money from the public sales tax can’t be used to supplant existing funding for public safety services. Money has to be used to bolster public safety.
As part of the public safety sales tax, 25 percent of the money will go to municipalities and fire districts for police and firefighting needs.
Some of the money will go toward county jail modernization, probation services, courthouse security upgrades, and the child advocacy center, among other things.
We need to make this investment up front. There are key parts of St. Clair County that if we could make them safer than what they currently are, you’ll see the type of economic activity you would expect in those places.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly
Kelly reiterated his message public safety is key for economic development in front of a crowd of business representatives.
“We need to make this investment up front,” Kelly said. “There are key parts of St. Clair County that if we could make them safer than what they currently are, you’ll see the type of economic activity you would expect in those places. The interstates they have, given the rail, and the other access they have. Those should be thriving areas. There are parts of the county that are not thriving because of the cycle of crime.”
School officials in attendance said most of the money would be used for property tax relief. Sometimes schools pay off bonds used for building improvements with property tax money.
Dosier asked businesses to help get the word out about the sales tax proposals.
District 201 would use 90 percent of its sales tax revenue for property tax relief, if the school facility referendum passes.
“We love to say 100 percent, but we also know roofs and boilers those kind of things, something could happen with those at any time,” Dosier said.
Dosier said the referenda are two separate issues, “but we feel like we compliment each other pretty well.”
Money can be used for land acquisition, building energy efficiencies, and safety and security, among other things.
“Some of the buildings in this county are 100 years old,” Dosier said. “So this makes a lot of sense for that.”
School officials also said the money would not go to the state’s general fund. It will be collected by the department of revenue and distributed back to school districts, based on the number of students in the district.
Matt Klosterman, superintendent of Belleville District 118, said 70 percent of the money generated from the school facilities sales tax would be used for property tax relief, but his district does have some building difficulties.
Some of the buildings in his district are 100 years old, and new construction isn’t an option due to the cost, and the difficulty of finding land.
“When we look at renovation, there are things to do that make sense, not only to upgrade buildings, to help with things with cost savings for energy efficiencies,” Klosterman said.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said the state of Illinois has a mess with its finances.
“That is a major concern,” Eckert said. “There are serious concerns at the Springfield level. If we don’t take some ... ownership, we could be at the mercy of some things that happen in Springfield that put us in a worse situation ... Taking some proactive (steps) here could only help us with our schools and public safety.”
In Belleville, 60 percent of the city’s budget goes to public safety. Public safety costs represent 70 percent of the St. Clair County budget.
People may say they want more police officers, but the city has to pay for them, Eckert said.
“It is a good opportunity. People demand we want more police, here’s a way to do it,” Eckert said.
John Reichert, president of In Focus Marketing, said he needs to give more thought on how he will vote on the two referenda. He said people want good schools and police and good environment in the community, but difficulty in funding those needs is caused by state dysfunction.
“Unfortunately, our local communities have to look hard at how to keep our schools safe and doing well, as well as keeping our community safe,” Reichert said. “The unfortunate issue is the problem really starts at the state level. The state keeps kicking the can down the road and putting undue stress on the residents of the state of Illinois because the state won’t take action to come up with a balanced budget.”
Forums are planned to discuss the school facilities and public safety sales tax referenda.
- March 6 at 7 p.m. at Freeburg Community High School at 401 S. Monroe St. Superintendents from Freeburg High School District 77, Freeburg Grade School District 70, Smithton District 130 and St. Libory District 30 are scheduled to speak.
- March 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the O’Fallon Township Building at 801 E. State St. Representatives for each of the sales tax initiatives are scheduled to speak.
- March 30 at 7 p.m. at Freeburg High School. Superintendents from Freeburg High School District 77, Freeburg Grade School District 70, Smithton District 130 and St. Libory District 30 are scheduled to speak.