Sales tax increase meets opposition

Nathan Domenighini

The village’s plan to improve commercial areas through creating business districts and increasing the sales tax rates within those zones by a quarter of a percent saw its first taste of opposition Monday night.

A packed Freedom Hall included members of the community who spoke out against a sales tax increase.

Through the creation of business districts, the village is able to increase the sales tax by up to 1 percent. Instead, the village opted to increase the sales tax rate by 0.25 percent — upping the current rate from 6.75 to 7 percent. The increase would help generate about $400,000 that would go toward street and sidewalk improvement, along with business facade improvements.

But, the word “tax” has several community members concerned.

“We’re in the middle of a recession,” said Mortonite Patte Winn. “It’s just frivolous spending at a time when people are hurting.

“We can’t afford it. And, its just unfair,” she said.

Her comments were followed by a round of applause from members in the audience.

“Now is the time to hold the line on taxes,” said Chris Lacey. “It is time to reduce spending and be financially responsible. We’ve been taxed enough already.”

Those who spoke against the sales tax increase for proposed business districts argued that the decision to do so clashes with the village’s possibility of cutting services to address a general fund budget deficit.

Jennifer Daly executive director of the Morton Economic Development Council, said she is concerned that those against the proposal are tying two issues together that do not belong.

“We want to make sure people understand that a 0.25 percent increase will still leave Morton at one of the lowest sales tax rates (in the area),” Daly said.

“We want to remain competitive in our sales tax,” she added.

Additionally, she said the increase does not affect just Mortonites, but any customer who shops in Morton.

Daly argued the lines between the village’s budget situation and the proposed business district are completely unrelated.

She said the proposal would include all businesses that are in commercial areas. She added she has not heard any negative comments from the business community.

But, the opposition is not surprising to her.

“Nobody likes proposing a sales tax increase, but this is the best way to achieve one of the major goals of the village’s comprehensive plan,” Daly said. “It does take money to achieve results.”

The sales tax increase would not affect purchases, such as groceries, cars and medicine. The rates for those items, along with others, remain static through state requirements.

Daly previously stated that, typically, shoppers do not pay attention to sales taxes when they make their day-to-day purchases — a 0.25 percent increase would be hardly noticed, she said.

That notion did not sit well with Mortonite Al Graham, who also spoke Monday night.

“I was offended by the idea that nobody will notice a (0.25 percent) increase,” Graham said. He proposed that, instead of raising the rates, that the village decrease them by a quarter of a percent and thoroughly advertise the fact.

“If I wouldn’t notice the increase, you wouldn’t notice the decrease,” he said.

Other business:

• Morton Mayor Norm Durflinger offered a list of revenue-generating ideas to address a $2.7 million budget deficit.

Along with proposing that Morton become home rule, he suggested a list of taxing options, including a 5 percent electricity tax, $25 per car wheel tax, a surcharge on AmerenCILCO bills and a tobacco tax. Other ideas include a charge fee for non-residents using the village’s fire or ambulance services and increased village charges.

View the entire list of proposed revenue-generating ideas here.

• Retiring village treasurer, Bill Collingwood was honored by the village board for his more than 32 years of service to the village.

“This man has made millions of dollars of interest for this village,” said Durflinger.

• The village awarded a $1.55 million contract to Stark Excavating, the lowest bidder, to improve East Courtland Street. The project is funded by $1.2 million in motor fuel taxes, plus $500,000 from Wal-Mart and the developer of the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 155 E. Courtland.