Mayor Mark Eckert on Wednesday proposed spreading a video gaming machine fee increase over a two-year period to replace a proposal that called for an immediate increase of $100 to $300 per machine.
Under this proposal, the annual fee for video gaming machines would jump to $200 this year and to $300 next year.
But bar and restaurant owners who attended a special City Council meeting Wednesday night argued that the city should not increase their video gaming fees, but instead charge every business in the city an annual business license to raise revenues.
The council did not take a vote Wednesday night, but Eckert said the fee increase proposal will be on the council’s agenda Monday night. On March 5, the council tabled a vote on proposed video gaming and liquor licenses fee increases, so city leaders could discuss the issue further during the special meeting Wednesday.
Eckert said the city will consider looking at raising other fees in the city, and some aldermen agreed with the bar owners that the city should charge all businesses a license.
“We are going to have to look at other fees,” Eckert said. “There is a need to raise some fees and a need to evaluate them because operating the city is not cheap. It’s very expensive.”
Mary Dahm-Schell, the co-owner of The Edge at 701 South Belt West, urged the city to look at other ways to raise money.
“We just want a level playing field,” Dahm-Schell told the council. “A $100 license fee, I think, is reasonable on every business in Belleville. I don’t think it should be just on the hospitality industry. I think everyone should pay their fair share because everyone benefits from fire departments, from police departments, streets — everybody benefits from city services.”
Eckert said City Attorney Garrett Hoerner was looking into what types of other fees could be charged but that this process would not be completed before the city fiscal year begins May 1.
Here are details about the proposed fee increases to be considered Monday night:
- Video gaming machine stickers: Increase from $100 per machine to $200 per machine this year and increase to $300 per machine in 2019.
- 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.
If these fee increases are approved, it would raise about $60,000 for the city.
Eckert said some bar owners thought they would have to pay half of the fee charged to terminal operators, but he said this is not case. Only the operator would pay this fee, he noted.
Statistics released by the city show that two area cities, Cahokia and Collinsville, charge a $500 video terminal establishment license fee, but Belleville doesn’t impose that fee. Also, Eckert noted that Belleville does not charge a beverage tax that other cities impose.
Eckert told the bar owners that the city’s share of state income tax revenue has dropped about $500,000 in each of the past two years, and that the city’s union workers are due to receive a 3 percent raise this fiscal year.
Barry Gregory, owner of Crehan’s Irish Pub at 5500 North Belt West and the vice president of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, gave aldermen a stack of statistics in an effort to show why the current bar and restaurant owners in Belleville should not face fee increases.
For example, he said his business needs to pay for 13 local, state and federal licenses every year to stay open.
He also noted that he conservatively estimates there are 2,000 commercial properties in Belleville. If each one paid a $100 business license, the city would gain $200,000.
Gregory also suggested the city charge $1,000 for a new liquor license application fee instead of the proposed amount of $500. The special event license should be $100 instead of the proposed $20, he said.