Metro-East News

Despite protests from bar owners, Belleville mayor breaks tie vote to increase fees

Belleville mayor breaks tie vote

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert cast a vote Monday night to break an 8-8 City Council vote and increase video gaming and liquor license fees.
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Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert cast a vote Monday night to break an 8-8 City Council vote and increase video gaming and liquor license fees.

Mayor Mark Eckert broke an 8-8 tie vote on the City Council on Monday night by voting to approve fee increases for video gaming terminals and liquor licenses as part of a “second compromise” offered by the administration.

Belleville bar and restaurant owners this month have been fighting proposed increases in their video gaming and liquor licenses. The first plan was tabled by the City Council on March 5 and another proposal with some fees not increasing as much was discussed in a special meeting March 14.

Here are details of the fee increases approved Monday night:

  • Video gaming terminal licenses: Increase from $100 per terminal to $200 in April and increase from $200 to $250 per terminal in April 2019. City leaders said they would discuss charging business license fees for all commercial properties in the city and possibly implement this charge in October. Under one scenario discussed Monday, city officials would rescind the video gaming terminal license increase due in April 2019 if more business would be charged licenses.

  • 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. Distributors would have the pay all this fee and bar owners would not be required to pay half of it.

  • Liquor licenses: Increase Class A and Class B base fee for bars and restaurants by $100 from $550 to $650 in April and then increase $50 from $650 to $700 next year. Increase Class C base fee for stores selling package liquor by $250 from $550 to $800 immediately.

  • Special event liquor license: Increase from $10 to $20 per event.

  • Liquor license application fee: Increase from $250 to $750.

Late last week, Eckert released what was billed as the “second compromise” in proposed increases and this was the plan approved Monday night.

Barry Gregory, owner of Crehan's Irish Pub in Belleville, told the City Council on Wednesday that all businesses in the city should pay a $100 business license. "That's $200,000 we could have tomorrow," he said.

“I don’t believe what we passed tonight was unfair,” Eckert said.

He noted that liquor license fees for bars and restaurants had not been increased for at least 10 years so the $150 increase resulted in a $15 yearly increase if you look back to the last increase.

The original proposal for video gaming fees called for an increase of $100 to $300 per machine but the plan approved called for the increase to $250. These fees had not been increased since they were established about five years ago.

“We compromised there,” Eckert said.

Scott Schmelzel, owner of Big Daddy's 618 in Belleville, asked aldermen not to raise video gaming fees and suggested they reach a compromise. "The only reason we're still open is gaming revenues," he said.

Eckert said the city staff will do research establishing business license fees on all businesses. Some types of businesses already pay a business license.

“We are studying this now,” Eckert said. “We have to do some research to make sure it’s legal.”

Barry Gregory, owner of Crehan’s Irish Pub on North Belt West and vice president of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, and other bar and restaurant owners believe their industry has been unfairly targeted by the city.

They said the video gaming revenue they receive is helping them to stay afloat and make building improvements. Also, they want the city to charge business licenses for all businesses in the city.

Barry Gregory, owner of Crehan's Irish Pub in Belleville and the vice president of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, said his industry is being "unfairly targeted" in proposed fee increases in Belleville.

Gregory conservatively estimates that there are 2,000 commercial properties in the city that could be charged a $100 annual business license fee to raise $200,000.

“I’m optimistic that they will address it,” Gregory said. “It was brought up three years ago and nothing has changed. The city has missed out on $600,000.”

Here is how aldermen voted on the video gaming and license fee increase ordinance at the end of their meeting:

Ken Kinsella of Ward 1; Jane Pusa of Ward 2; Johnnie Anthony of Ward 4; Ed Dintelman and Shelly Schaefer of Ward 5; Andy Gaa and Mary Stiehl of Ward 6; and Roger Wigginton of Ward 8 voted in favor of the increases.

Joe Hazel of Ward 1; Mike Buettner of Ward 2; Kent Randle and Scott Tyler of Ward 3; Raffi Ovian of Ward 4; Phil Elmore and Dennis Weygandt of Ward 7; and Roger Barfield of Ward 8 voted against the increases.

Eckert cast the deciding vote in favor of the increases.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert discusses why the city has proposed fee increases that could bring in $180,000. He said the city's share of state income tax was down $500,000 last year.

Earlier in the evening, there were fewer “no” votes for various motions on the plan but all of the proposed fee proposed were incorporated into the ordinance approved. City Attorney Garrett Hoerner told the aldermen they had the opportunity to take individual votes on parts of the ordinance but the council did not take that option.

Finance Director Jamie Maitret said the fee increases approved Monday night could produce about $58,000 to $60,000.

Elmore proposed a motion that called for the video gaming terminal fee to be capped at $200 but this motion failed 10-6.

The state receives 25 percent of the net income per video gaming terminal and 5 percent goes to the city. Of the remaining 70 percent of the income, the company that administrators the game statewide, Scientific Games, receives .7275 percent and the terminal operator, who owns and places the gaming terminals, and the licensed establishment split the remaining amount, according the Illinois Gaming Board.

If you want to find out how much video gaming revenue the state, city, system administrator, establishments and distributors receive, go to the monthly gaming report tab on the Illinois Gaming Board’s website.

In Belleville, 31 establishments had video gaming terminals in 2017. Each place can have a maximum of five terminals. These locations in Belleville produce a net terminal income of about $5.52 million last year.

Here’s how that revenue was divided: The 31 establishments in Belleville received about $1.91 million and the operators received about $1.91 million; the state received about $1.38 million; the city of Belleville received about $276,356; and the administrator received about $40,200, according to state gaming board online records.

The local establishments have to pay various licenses to local, state and federal governments to remain in business.

Mike Koziatek: 618-239-2502, @MikeKoziatekBND
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