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Council moves toward tax hike

Officials: Money needed for rising city pension costs

STERLING – A resident with a $100,000 house would pay $41.64 more in property taxes next year under a city proposal. The money would cover increases in police and fire pension costs.

The City Council voted 5-1 Monday for a preliminary tax hike proposal, with Alderman Barry Cox dissenting.

Under the proposal, the city would increase its tax levy by 6.99 percent. Any increase more than 5 percent requires a public hearing before final approval.

Last year, the city’s contribution to the Police Department pension fund was $497,884; this year, the actuaries are recommending a contribution of $605,834, which is a 21.7 percent increase.

The city’s Fire Department contribution last year was $415,260. This year, that number will be $605,834, an increase of 21.1 percent.

The city is expecting three firefighters and one police officer to retire next year, increasing the likelihood for even higher contributions, according to the city.

City Manager Scott Shumard said that if the council rejected the tax hike, it should prepare to make cuts to next year’s budget, most of which will be personnel.

He said the state sets pension benefit amounts, retirement ages and employee contributions, so the city has little control.

Alderwoman Amy Viering said the pensions are a city debt.

“We have to pay it,” she said.

Shumard said the city’s long-term plan should be to seek home rule, which voters must approve. With home rule, the city would have more power to impose sales and food and beverage taxes.

With such taxes, some of the revenue would come from visitors to Sterling, not just residents, Shumard said. Now, city residents are solely responsible for fire pension funding, even though the Fire Department serves residents outside the city.

Cox said home rule could result in waste.

“Instead of saying we’re taking out of the right pocket, we’re taking out of the left pocket,” he said.

Mayor Skip Lee said a sales tax would spread out the burden.

Cox said the state needs to reform the pension system.

“Citizens have to go to Springfield,” he said.

After Cox voted no, Viering said she would like to know how those who voted no would solve the problem.

Cox replied, “I expect you to stop attacking me.”

The city plans to have a public hearing Dec. 17 and then vote on the tax increase.

To attend

The Sterling City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at City Hall Annex, 200 W. Third St. (in the old Blockbuster building).

The council will have a public hearing on a proposed tax increase shortly after the start of the meeting, then will vote on the issue after that.

Call 815-632-6621 for more information.

Four running in Sterling

STERLING – Four candidates are running for the two at-large Sterling City Council seats in the April 9 election.

They are incumbent Linda Marley and challengers John Stauter, a member of the city Planning Commission; Javier Padilla; and Christopher Schuchard.

Incumbent Amy Viering announced last week that she wouldn't run. She served as Sterling's first female mayor from 2007 to 2011, when she didn't seek re-election.

Two months after she left office in 2011, Mayor Skip Lee appointed her as alderman at large.

Monday was the filing deadline for candidates.

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