MORRISON – The city joined its school district Monday in approving a resolution to put a sales tax referendum on the November ballot.
The council unanimously backed putting the sales tax increase before voters at its 1 percent maximum. If voters approved the measure, the exact amount of the tax would then be determined.
“Once it is approved, the council has to have another vote for how much it will be,” Mayor Everett Pannier said. “We could decide to just set it at a portion of that, and then we could use the rest later.”
For non-home rule municipalities, the tax is capped at 1 percent, and can only be instituted in one-quarter increments.
Whiteside County schools will have the County School Facility Sales Tax on the November ballot. That referendum will call for a 1-cent sales tax increase to be used only for school maintenance purposes.
While both entities agree that having both tax questions on the same ballot is not an ideal situation, they believe they had no other choice.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s a sign of the times,” said Scott Vance, superintendent of Morrison Community Unit District 6. “State funding is down just about everywhere, and money is needed in municipalities and schools.”
As the second-largest school district in the county, Morrison stands to reap about $500,000, if the tax increase passes.
Vance said the school board would look to use some of the extra sales tax revenue to lighten the load on homeowners.
“Our board, historically, has voted to abate property taxes, so that is something for the voters to consider,” Vance said.
The school district is eyeing some big-ticket maintenance projects, including replacing two roofs and a boiler within the next few years.
The city said it would use the estimated $250,000 a year that the full 1 percent tax increase would bring for roads projects. Pannier said a study by an engineering group and the city’s public works department concluded that the city should be budgeting $400,000 a year for road work, and that isn’t happening.
“With our situation, it’s just not possible,” Pannier said. “Nothing has been put away for the future in previous administrations for wastewater treatment or roads, and the future is now.”
The city earlier this month decided to delay its wastewater treatment plant project for another year. It is hoped that new financing rules to be implemented next year could bring better loan terms.
“We’ll go back to IEPA and present what we need,” Pannier said. “By postponing the project, we hope we can get a low-interest loan or grants.”
The city was issued a citation for its 1930s wastewater system in 2012, and told to replace it in the next 3 years. Significant storms would cause overflow at the treatment plant, allowing untreated wastewater to escape. The city is in compliance with EPA regulations, Panner said.
If passed, the sales tax increase would be used only for roads, but the cost of the wastewater project will make it more difficult to address other infrastructure needs.
The streets identified as needing the most attention are East Wall, South Jackson, East Winfield, and a small section of Orange, from the railroad tracks to U.S. Route 30.
“When I was running for mayor, people told me that we had to make it a priority to get our streets fixed,” Pannier said. “This administration wants to honor their request.”
Frequent water leaks also have taken a toll on streets, curbs and sidewalks. The city opened bids Monday on concrete work made necessary by the water problems.
“We had so many water leaks, we had to dig up portions of the street,” Pannier said. “We started work on fixing that this week, and hopefully, it will be done in about a month.”
The Morrison City Council next meets at 7 p.m. Aug. 11, at the Whiteside County Courthouse board room, 400 N. Cherry St. in Morrison.
Go to www.morrisonil.org or call City Hall at 815-772-7657 for an agenda or more information.