DU QUOIN -- There were so many moving parts to Monday's Du Quoin City Council meeting that it almost takes a finance major to understand the arguments presented by both sides.
To summarize, Mayor Guy Alongi and the city council are at odds with Perry County officials over a proposed public safety tax that will appear on the April ballot asking voters to approve a one-half cent sales tax increase in order to bail out growing debt for the continued operation of the jail.
If approved by the voters, the tax would generate about $689,000, and that 100 percent of that amount, according to Perry County Clerk Josh Gross, would go toward maintaining and operating the jail. It would offset salary costs and allow for much needed repairs.
Du Quoin City Clerk Andrew Croessman, however, pointed out that about 73 percent of that amount raised or $503,000 would be generated by Du Quoin businesses, although the city only represents 27 percent of the total population of the county.
Croessman said, if approved, the sales tax rate in the county would jump from 7.75 percent to 8.25 percent, which is a 6.5 percent cost increase for consumers and businesses.
By comparison, Perry County would have the highest sales tax rate south of Interstate 64 and the second highest to Cook County statewide. Hardin County already has an 8.25 percent sales tax rate, but its population is one-fifth that of Perry County with a fraction of the tax base.
The tax rate for businesses in downtown Du Quoin would increase from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent. Moreover, the business district on the south end of town, which includes Walmart and General Cable, for example, would jump from 9.75 percent to 10.25 percent.
"That rate would put us at the same level as the city of Chicago," Alongi said.
The mayor explained that he has several concerns with the proposed tax increase -- two of the most important of which are ... how is it going to affect Du Quoin businesses and why wasn't the city included in the discussion process before the measure got placed on the ballot?
Gross apologized to Alongi during the council meeting, saying that he does regret the city wasn't brought into the loop much sooner.
"I, nor this council, were ever contacted directly on this matter," Alongi said. "I have had some merchants talk to me about this tax and they are concerned. When Erik Perks (plant manager for General Cable) reaches out to me, that is a red flag. There's 225 jobs at that plant that pay $50,000 on up. He told me that an added tax takes the competitive edge off his business. That concerns me."
Councilman Chuck Genesio echoed the mayor's thought, and actually took it to a higher level.
"There's $150 million in tax revenue between General Cable and Walmart. If we were to lose them (over increased taxes), Du Quoin would never recover."
Councilman Michael Ward said, "We can't keep going to the taxpayers and asking them to take care of our problems."
Councilwoman Jill Kirkpatrick said other states don't have these tax burdens, pointing out that Illinois is among the most offensive.
"We have to do all that we can to keep the business we have here," she said.
As a counter to Du Quoin's concerns, Gross said the proposed public safety tax is essential to the county in order to avoid staffing reductions.
"It is no secret that Perry County has fought with tough budget matters for years now. The board has challenged all of the elected officials to reduce their discretionary spending and utilize additional sources of revenue in an attempt to keep from rolling back services and staffing," Gross said. "While this has been mostly successful, the constant increase in expenses combined with the reductions in revenue are proving just too much to manage without making significant changes.
"To that end, Perry County is looking to increase through referenda the Public Safety tax," Gross said. "This money can only be used for crime prevention, detention, police, medical ambulance, fire fighting, or other emergency services."
Gross said an increase in the Public Safety tax will allow for Perry County to use those funds to support an alternative revenue bond. The revenue generated from that bond will go to funding offsets related to public safety. Additionally those dollars will also be utilized to repair our ailing county jail. The jail needs some immediate repairs to its roof which are estimated at nearly $400,000.
"That is an amount that we simply do not have available unless this referendum passes." he said.
Board chairman Robert Kelly, who did not attend the Du Quoin City Council meeting Monday, did issue a statement.
"One thing is clear ... if this referendum does not pass, there will be significant reductions of services and personnel in Perry County. While no one here wants to see changes made that negatively impact the citizens of Perry County, it is a reality we are getting closer to by the day."