Highland News Leader

To vote or not to vote? Highland council weighs letting public cast ballot on sales tax

The next Highland City Council agenda will hold a controversial item that has been the subject of discussion for months.

The council will be voting on whether to implement a redevelopment plan that will raise sales tax within three designated areas by up to one percent. This could raise Highland sales tax to 8.85 percent, bringing in an estimated extra $1 million to the city. The tax could then be implemented for 23 years, without voter approval.

In July, the Highland City Council hired Moran Development, an Edwardsville-based economic consulting firm to help develop alternatives to create revenue to support economic development and possibly pay for a new public safety building. The redevelopment plans developed by Moran says that almost  2/3 of Highland shows “blighted” conditions. Keith Moran, the president of the consulting company, said these blighting conditions are not as extreme as what a tax incremental fund district would require for qualification, but are more an indication of gradual deterioration and economic under-utilization.

“If I could avoid the term blight, I would,” Moran said. “It is not an insult to the community”

But, the status still allows the city, if it receives council approval, to create three business districts in which the sales tax would be raised on retail goods not licensed by the state.

The three new business districts would be as follows:

▪ District A: Northtown and areas along Walnut Street and U.S. 40.

▪ District B: Downtown district including areas along Broadway and Highland Road.

▪ District C: Centered along Frank Watson Parkway, much of which is still undeveloped.

Before the council meeting on Sept. 5, the city had three separate public hearings for the business districts. During the hearings, various members of the community came forward to voice their opinions over the matter.

“It is pretty obvious you are using the blight thing to go through the back door when you know that the front door is locked,” said Highland resident Don Manor.

Aside from Manor’s opinion that what it city is doing is shady, he also felt that there are other priorities the city should be targeting besides pursuing a new public safety building.

Resident Michael Gilomen echoed this sentiment.

“Probably, the sales tax would be an easy sell if the community thought the money was really being spent wisely,” Gilomen said.

Barbara Heyen said it was not right for the council to circumvent the electorate in such matters.

“I think tax increases should be up to the voters to decide,” Heyen said.

After the hearing, Mayor Joe Michaelis gave a speech, reminding the council that putting the sales tax up to a public vote is an option that has passed sales tax increases in the past. He brought up multiple projects, like the city’s peripheral route and fiber connection that were results of sales tax increases.

“If a project is deemed necessary, it will be approved,” Michaelis said.

A lengthy discussion followed Michaelis’s reminder, where the council members weighed the pros and cons of putting the tax up for a vote.

“I didn’t hear anyone say they were strictly against the tax. It was how it was being used,” said Councilman Neill Nicolaides.

Councilwoman Peggy Bellm said she has no problem putting the tax up for a referendum, but she fears the costs the city will incur while waiting will deter the city’s progress, compared to what could be done if the tax was out into action next year without a vote.

“We can kick the bucket or stick our neck out and say, ‘This is something we need to do, and we need to do it now,’ ” Bellm said.

Councilman Rick Frey said he thought everyone who was present at the hearings were on the same page. But he felt the main complaint was problems in the city are not being fixed, though he feels the city is working through its priorities including trying to improve the water and sewer system.

“A lot of things would not be fixed if we brought it to a vote,” Frey said.

Frey also said something needs to be done to alleviate the costs of theses projects, because if the city does not make progress, the costs will get out of hand.

“Some how, somebody’s got to step up and do something,” Frey said.

Councilman Aaron Schwarz said, while he understands there are advantages to a vote, and he was “not necessarily opposed to taking it to a vote,” he feels only moving forward can bring the best outcome.

“We can’t be afraid to risk political capital to do what is right for the city,” Schwarz said.

Once the discussion was finished, the council moved to put the implementation of the districts on the agenda for the next council meeting on Sept. 18. Bellm said that she wanted the public to know that before the council votes on the tax, there will be a chance for citizens to speak during the public forum in the regular meeting.

Other business

EvUCC requests approved

The council approved a request from the Evangelical United Church of Christ, 2520 Poplar St. in Highland, for use of the Square from Nov. 4 to the morning of Nov. 5.

Information from the church said the congregation’s high school students will construct a small “box village” out of recycled cardboard boxes and duct tape. The students will then spend the night in their cardboard box, remaining in the Square the whole evening to help the kids experience being homeless in a “relatively safe and supervised environment.” It is anticipated there will be between 10 to 20 participants, based on last year’s involvement. There will be appropriate adult supervision at the simulation, with one adult for every sixth child.

The council approved another request from EvUCC for the Running on Faith 5K. The event will be on Oct. 7 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., with an expected 50 to 100 people in attendance. Beth Hegger, a representative from the chruch requested the cones be placed from Faith Rive to Lindenthal Avenue to create a running path along Poplar Street. Hegger also requested use of the Highland Police Department for traffic control.

The council approved another request from the EvUCC for the use of the Square for the Peace Rally Sept. 10.

Appointment approved

The council approved the appointment of Linda Montayne to the Highland Area Tree Commission, a committee of Highland residents responsible for maintenance, inventory, and growing of the community’s urban forest. Montayne has lived in Highland for 24 years and has served on the Parks and Recreation Commission for several years, volunteered at Partners for Pets and was the library clerk at Highland Hope United Methodist Church. The tree commission meets the first Tuesday of every month at the Korte Recreation Center, with meeting times alternating between 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. each month.

Refuse collection contract approved

The council approved the extension of a contract the city holds with Robert “Bob” Sanders Waste Systems Inc. The contact will be extended for another one-year term, starting Oct. 1 and running through Sept. 30, 2018. There were no rate increases in the extension.

Prelim engineering contract approved

The council approved a preliminary service agreement with Curry & Associates in Naperville, Ill., not to exceed $25,000, to plan the restoration of the Old City Lake dam and spillway.

The older lake has a dam and spillway structure on its southern boundary, much like that of Silver Lake, according to Public Works Director Joe Gillespie. City officials believe that the original structure was changed at some point in time. Gillespie said the modification consisted of the installation of two metal culverts that were filled with dirt sometime between in 1950s or ’60s. Now, those pipes have begun to rust, and dirt is washing away.

Control system upgrade approved

The council approved a $34,117.08 agreement with Corais Controls Inc. in Highland to upgrade the computer equipment and software for the supervisory control and data acquisition system at the Water Treatment Plant.

According to a memo from Gillespie, Cosair Controlls installed a SCADA system at the plant back in 2006. The system monitors levels in the plant’s tanks and operates the pumps, chemical feeds and alarm notifications. Gillespie said the system computers are currently operating on Windows XP software that is not supported by Microsoft. He said the plant now uses a fiber connection and the outdated software use brings about some security concerns.

The contract will replace the desktop PC in the plant’s lab and a backup laptop. The terms will also provide an upgrade for the latest SCADA version of control software called, iFix.

Truck boad and crane purchased

The council approved the purchase of a truck body with a crane from Kranz Body Co. in St. Louis for $51,956. Out of five bid packets issued, there was one submission, and Gillespie said the body and crane meet and exceed some requirements, while remaining in the expected range of cost for the equipment. The truck body and crane will be added to a new truck and will be used to maintain 27 different pumps, a number that is subject to increases after the upgrade of the Water Reclamation Facility, according to Gillespie.

Water main relocation bids let

The council approved bid letting for a project that will relocate a water main that now runs adjacent to the Trouw Nutrition building on Matter Drive. The main is a part of the 12-inch transmission main that feeds the elevated tank at Zschokke and 13th streets and assists with system-wide pressure. Gillespie said there have been multiple breaks in this section, one of which was responsible from a boil order that affected the entire system. He also said the breaks are difficult to repair, because they are close to the business.

Pool lighting bids let

The council approved a request from the Director of Parks and Recreation to seek bids to replace the lighting around the swimming pool at the Korte Recreation Center. In a memo, Rosen said the estimated cost of the project would be $23,760. The need for the replacement is because the lighting in the room is failing slowly, and some individual fixtures have become irreparable. The department will be applying for an Energy Efficiency Rebate for approximately $4,400 for the project, according to Rosen. He also said the savings from new LED fixtures would bring an annual expected electric savings of $4,000. After installation costs, Rosen said the payback period for the project will be approximately six years.