Belleville bar owner opposes higher fees
Three years ago, Belleville business owners successfully stopped a plan to raise fees for video gaming terminals and liquor licenses.
But now they face another round of proposed fee increases.
On Monday, the City Council is expected to vote on a plan to raise at least 10 fees for things like video gaming machines, liquor licenses, housing inspections and housing occupancy permits.
If approved, the biggest increases would affect bars and restaurants, which can have up to five video gaming machines. For example, the current fee of $100 per video gaming machine would jump to $300 annually and a liquor license would increase from $550 to $700 each year. Also, video gaming machine distributors don’t pay a fee to operate in Belleville now but they would face a $500 fee for each location they service.
Mayor Mark Eckert said the city needs the additional revenue from the higher fees, which are estimated to raise an additional $180,000.
The city’s share of state income tax revenue dropped $500,000 last year because people are leaving the state of Illinois and consequently fewer people are paying state income taxes, said Eckert, who is president of the Illinois Municipal League.
"With the constant loss of revenue from our state, with 34,000 people approximately moving out of Illinois in the last year to two years, our income tax was down, right at a half million dollars last year," Eckert said. "That is something that we’re all victims of."
Eckert said the city works to keep expenses under control as it deals with tight revenue sources.
"We're not over the top and we get heck a lot of times that we're extreme, but if there was true comparisons done to a lot of other cities, we're very frugal."
Opponents of the fee increase said the city should stop trying to impose higher fees onto bar and restaurant owners.
"I think it's outrageous," said John Steinlage, the retired general manager of the former Maxwell's Restaurant at 923 W. Main St. "They want to pass this onto people who don't deserve it."
Steinlage and Barry Gregory, owner of Crehan's Irish Pub at 5500 North Belt West, said bar owners helped persuade Belleville voters to pass video gaming in 2012 and that the city shouldn’t raise fees for an industry that already produces a valuable revenue stream for the city. Gregory said since the gaming began in Belleville, the city has received about $945,000 as part of its share of video gaming revenue and fees.
The city gets 5 percent of the video gaming revenue, the state gets 25 percent and the business owner and the gaming machine operator each get 35 percent.
"It seems like our industry has been unfairly targeted with the majority of the fee increases," said Gregory, who has five video gaming terminals at Crehan's and is the vice president of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association.
Gregory noted that while city revenues are down, revenue is also down in the hospitality industry, especially since the state's smoking ban in public buildings took effect in 2008.
"Every location around is down with the exception of maybe one or two of the new establishments," Gregory said. "It's something that we’ve all felt in our pocketbooks. There's nobody in this industry that’s living large and high on the hog that I know of."
Gregory also argues that Belleville's proposed fee of $300 per each video gaming terminal is too high because nearby bars that compete with him only have to pay $25 per each terminal in the unincorporated areas of St. Clair County.
Caseyville also charges a $25 fee for each terminal annually. But other cities charge fees ranging from $250 to $1,000.
Collinsville charges $250 for each terminal and a $500 video gaming establishment license due annually.
O’Fallon businesses are charged $1,000 per machine, but nonprofit groups have a $250 fee.
In March 2015, Belleville's Finance Committee faced a barrage of complaints from business owners and the committee rejected a plan to raise fees for video gaming terminals and liquor licenses and the City Council did not take up the proposal.
But last Monday, the Finance Committee voted 7-0 in support of the new plan that would raise fees for video gaming terminals, liquor licenses and other fees. The committee's vote is a recommendation and the City Council would have the final say on the plan when it meets this Monday night.
Here are details of the proposed fee increases:
- Video gaming machine stickers: Increase from $100 per machine to $300 per machine annually.
- Video gaming terminal operator’s license: Change from no fee currently to $500 annually per location. There are about 30 locations in the city and various distributors place machines in Belleville.
- Liquor licenses: Increase Class A, B and C base fee from $550 to $700 annually.
- Special event liquor license: Increase from $10 to $20 per event.
- Liquor license application fee: Increase from $250 to $500.
- Additional or new trash bin fee: Increase from $50 to $75 per bin.
- Sanitation large item pick-up fee: Increase from $45/$70/$100 (depending on size of truckload) to $65/$90/$120.
- Housing occupancy permits: Increase from $50 to $55 per permit.
- Housing inspections: Increase from $60 to $65 per inspection.
- Business license: Increase from $25 to $50. Some businesses already pay higher fees for licenses so this would not affect them and other businesses do not have to pay any business license fee.
Gregory suggested that the city make all businesses pay a business license.
Landlords are required to pay a crime-free ordinance fee of $25 per rental unit and the city has proposed to increase this fee to $30 but the city’s Crime-Free Housing Committee has not yet met to consider this issue.
Want to go?
- What: Belleville City Council to consider raising several fees, with the largest increases involving video gaming terminals and liquor licenses.
- When: 7 p.m. Monday
- Where: City Hall at 101 S. Illinois St.