Metro-East News

Seniors, low-income Collinsville residents to receive utility tax rebate

Some residents of Collinsville will get a rebate on their utility taxes in the coming months, though some have protested that the procedure to prove eligibility for the rebate is too complex.

Consultant Nick Asavar demonstrated how residents can use a new app to apply for a rebate on their utility taxes, which is being offered to seniors, the disabled and low-income residents. Residents will be able to apply for the rebate beginning next month. Eligible residents include people ages 65 and older; those who qualify for state property tax relief; or those who earn an income below the poverty level guidelines.

For example, a family of four making less than about $56,000 would be able to receive a partial rebate on Collinsville’s utility tax.

Documentation is required, which may include a state ID, utility bills, income tax form or disability identification card. The maximum rebate is $55.

The rebate application process launches next week, according to finance director Tamara Ammann. The app will be linked on the Collinsville city website, and the full demonstration can be viewed by accessing the council meeting online video on the site.

Councilwoman Nancy Moss and some residents questioned whether senior citizens would be able to manage the application and identification procedures, including having to upload images of some documentation.

“How many seniors are going to go through this?” asked resident Mary Drumm. “It’s ridiculous.”

Other residents said that disabled and senior residents would have difficulty navigating the system, which they said was too complex for a small discount.

“That’s the idea, isn’t it?” said resident Janet Schultz. “People will be too confused, it’s too much hassle, and you get to keep the money.”

Ammann said the city will have an iPad at its counter with assistance available for those who are having trouble figuring out the system or do not have internet access.

The rebate was approved in December 2016 in a 3-2 vote with Moss and Councilman Jeff Kypta voting no.

In other business:

▪  The council approved tax increment financing money for a professional consulting study focused on the long term business operations and capital needs of the Gateway Center. The total cost of the study is $67,800, which includes $15,000 for a hotel study as part of assessing the convention center’s needs.

“The economic engine they provide for the city is overwhelming,” said Mayor John Miller. Part of the center’s dilemma, he said, is that the TIF district surrounding it has only a few years left, and they are paying off bonds on the three expansions in their 25 years. The study will help the center figure out what they need to stay competitive in the St. Louis and St. Charles market in years forward, he said.

▪  Some residents protested the cancellation of the last council meeting, which was scheduled for March 13. City manager Mitch Bair said they canceled the meeting due to lack of business, but Moss and Kypta had protested that even if the only business was to hear comments from residents, the meeting should have occurred.

Schultz pointed out that March 13 fell at the beginning of Sunshine Week, a recognition of the need for transparency in government organized by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “How did Collinsville celebrate Sunshine Week? You canceled the council meeting,” Schultz said.

▪  The council approved a change in the city’s zoning ordinance to classify certain businesses that may be controversial as special use. They include businesses such as tobacco/vaping shops, buy-here-pay-here car lots, gold buyers and others whose businesses may require more review. Those businesses now will be reviewed by the planning commission, and if turned down, the business owner can still appeal to the city council. The change passed unanimously without debate.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald