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Rock Falls mayor proposes sales tax increase for roads

Mayor gives his first State of the City address

Published: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 8:45 a.m. CDT
Caption
Bill Wescott

ROCK FALLS – Mayor Bill Wescott covered finances, roads and the riverfront in his State of the City address at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Wescott said the terrible condition of city roads is an obvious problem with no simple solution.

"Our residents demand that we remedy the situation," Wescott said. "I'm sorry to tell you, but there is no easy solution."

The mayor tried to clear up some misconceptions regarding where the money for road repairs and improvements comes from. That money can come from only two funds: the state motor fuel tax, and the local option sales tax, better known as the half-cent sales tax.

Rock Falls is now getting about $280,000 a year from the motor fuel tax. The city must use $140,000 of that for the next 5 years to pay off a bond for the West Second Street project. The rest is used for basic supplies such as gravel, sand and salt.

The half-cent sales tax generates about $405,000 a year and can only be used for roads. Saying that would barely make a dent, given the magnitude of the problem, Wescott proposed an increase in the sales tax.

"Perhaps it is time to get with Sterling and Dixon, to revisit the half-cent sales tax, and ask you, the residents, by vote in a referendum, if you would support an increase to the maximum of 1 cent total," Wescott said.

That would essentially double the available road money, giving the city about $810,000 a year to tackle buckling roads and potholes.

Wescott emphasized that without the increased revenue, decaying roads will only get worse.

The issue was raised by residents during the 2013 mayoral race between Wescott and former mayor David Blanton. Then, Wescott said that the city needed a specific plan to address the state of the roads, and more money to pay for it.

"I think that we need to evaluate our roads; we need to identify which ones are the worst, and then we need to come up with the funding, because the current funding is not going to allow it to happen," Wescott said while on the campaign trail.

During a quick financial overview, the mayor reminded citizens of the decrease in the overall assessed valuation of city properties.

"The amount of property value considered for tax purposes dropped by $1.9 million over last year," Wescott said. "As a result, the total amount of funds to be received from property taxes by the city equals only $1.1 million."

Given that scenario, the $5.2 million general fund budget needs to make up the $4 million shortfall with tax money received from the state.

In other matters, authorization was given to notify Elements Markets LLC that the city plans to terminate its agreements for the resale of renewable energy credits.

"We just think we can get a better price," said Dick Simon, electric department head. "We have a couple companies in the running, and we should have someone by the end of this week."

The meeting opened with the recognition of organizations and individuals who helped the city during the Feb. 13 lift station failure. Certificates were awarded and pictures taken.

Alderman Glen Kuhlemier was named president pro tem while the mayor attends an energy conference March 9-13.

Sauk Valley Landlord's Association President Rod Kleckler addressed the council regarding the proposed rental inspection programs being developed in Rock Falls and Sterling. Kleckler said he found the draft language "very confusing and vague," and doubted that the fees would cover the costs of the program.

"I suggest you put this on the shelf for 6 months," Kleckler said. "Take it back to committee and study it."

Next meeting

The Rock Falls City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. March 18, at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St. 

The agendas will be posted at www.rockfalls61071.com and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

The City Council meeting also can be viewed live on Channel 5.

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