After hearing a series of complaints from bar owners Monday night, the Belleville City Council voted to table a plan to raise video gaming and liquor license fees.
The council did vote 12-4 to increase other fees, including large item trash collection, occupancy permits and housing inspections. These fee increases are significantly lower than the ones proposed for the bar and restaurant industry.
The bar owners said they were being unfairly targeted by the increases while city officials said that if all of the fees were raised as proposed, it would have generated $180,000 in revenue the city needs.
Mayor Mark Eckert said he would convene a meeting possibly this week with the bar owners to see if a compromise can be reached.
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The city had proposed raising the video gaming terminal fee from $100 per machine per year to $300 annually and raising the liquor license fee from $550 to $700. Also, a video gaming terminal operator's license would be established and would cost $500. The bar owners said they may have to pay half of this fee.
Eckert noted the video gaming fees had not been raised since the video gaming was approved by voters in 2012 and that the liquor license fees had not been increased for at least 10 years.
"We'll see if we can come to some compromise," Eckert said. "They can say we don't know what it's like to run a business. Believe me, they don't know what it's like to run a city."
Eckert said the proposed general fund scheduled to go into effect on May 1 has a 1 percent increase from the current general fund of about $28 million. This is the fund used to run the day-to-day operations of the city.
"We're as frugal as hell," he said.
Barry Gregory, owner of Crehan’s Irish Pub at 5500 North Belt West and the vice president of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, said he looks forward to meeting with city officials to present his case about the proposed fee increases.
"I think it's a fair and equitable decision. Let's sit down and talk," Gregory said after the meeting. "We can figure things out."
Gregory and seven others in the bar and restaurant industry urged the aldermen to drop the plans to raise the video gaming and liquor license fees. They said revenue gained from the machines has made the difference between going under and staying in business.
The bars get 35 percent of the gaming revenue, the distributor gets 35 percent, the state gets 25 percent and the city gets 5 percent.
Scott Schmelzel, co-owner of Big Daddy’s bar at 313 E. Main St., asked aldermen not to raise the video gaming fees as proposed and he suggested they reach a compromise.
"The only reason we're still open is gaming revenues," Schmelzel said.
Schmelzel said the increase from $100 per year to $300 per year per gaming machine was too high.
"It seems drastic to everybody," he said of the gaming machine fees tripling. He said he hoped that a compromise could be reached where the increase would be more gradual.
In March 2015, Belleville bar owners persuaded city leaders to drop a plan to raise fees for video gaming terminals and liquor licenses.
Here are details about the proposed fee increases that were tabled Monday night:
- 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 and other bar owners suggested that the city charge all businesses in the city an annual business license.
The plan to raise these fees was supported by Ken Kinsella of Ward 1; Jane Pusa of Ward 2; Johnnie Anthony and Raffi Ovian of Ward 4; Ed Dintelman and Shelly Schaefer of Ward 5; Andy Gaa and Mary Stiehl of Ward 6; Phil Elmore and Dennis Weygandt of Ward 7; and Roger Wigginton and Roger Barfield of Ward 8.
Ward 1 Alderman Joe Hazel, Ward 2 Alderman Mike Buettner and Ward 3 Aldermen Kent Randle and Scott Tyler voted against the higher fees.