In the hands of voters

Ann Gill

By now, voters know that come election day they will be asked if Coal City should become a home rule community.
    For the past few weeks, fliers have been appearing in the mailbox and advertisements for and against the proposal have been printed in this newspaper, and the village of Coal City has even dedicated space on its website to provide home rule information to its residents.
    The village reports it has placed the proposition on the ballot in an effort to not only keep local authority, but as a tool to increase revenues in a way that avoids property taxes and reduce its overall cost of borrowing.
    Village officials have been exploring home rule as a funding option for municipal improvements for the past few years and came to the determination last fall that it was time to take the proposal to its residents. Home rule authority is granted by the Illinois Constitution and is automatic for towns with populations over 25,000. So for municipalities like Coal City that fall under the threshold it takes a vote of residents.
    There are currently more than 200 home rule municipalities in Illinois including Elwood,  Kankakee, Joliet, Manhattan and Channahon that has been under home rule authority for decades.
    If approved, village officials say they plan to implement a gasoline tax. The revenue generated would go toward the improvement of roadway infrastructure, capital improvements and related debt. The proposed tax would be collected on the sale of gasoline from the town’s service station, thus anyone who purchases gas within the village would contribute to the improvement. Village officials say its a way to increase revenue without placing more burden on property taxpayers.
    Channahon Mayor Missy Schumacher was in Coal City to share some, details, advice and experience on home rule. Her remarks coming during the March 21 Village Board meeting. Channahon has a gasoline tax that generated $631,279 in the 12-month period between May 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016. During that time, the town collected .01 cents on each gallon of gas and .06 cents on every gallon of diesel fuel.    
    According to Schumacher, even though gasoline purchases in her community have an added Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) tax on top of home rule, it has not impacted gas fees. As of May 1, 2016, the village of Channahon instituted an increase in the fuel and diesel tax of .03 cents respectively. Schumacher said the expected result in revenues is over $1 million per year.
    “For the first nine months of the year, the village has received $855.870. We estimate the increase to generate an additional total in the neighborhood of $500,000 to the village,” Schumacher said.
    Coal City Village Administrator Matt Fritz previously reported his board is of the opinion that the implementation of a gas tax would not  impact the cost of gas here.
    Under the powers it is granted by home rule, Channahon also collects revenue through a hotel/motel tax, video gaming terminal fee, real estate transfer tax and a 1 percent home rule sales tax that generates approximately $900,000 per year.
    The Illinois Realtors have spoken out on the subject of home rule. One of the key points initially pointed out when Coal City announced its intent to place the matter on the ballot was with transfer taxes.
    Illinois Realtors have historically opposed the concept of home rule on the basis that include the option of local government to increase debt and implement taxes, and the potential for town officials to abuse the powers granted to them instituting property regulations.
    “In a small community, the people who sit on the board are very careful because it affects them as well,” Schumacher said.
    Coal City Mayor Terry Halliday has routinely made similar statements and says the future of home rule is ultimately up to the voters. The outcome of the vote will be known in just six days.
    Home rule is not the only proposition on the consolidated election ballot this spring as the Grundy County Board has placed a question regarding the implementation of a public safety sales tax. Funds generated from the proposed tax would be utilized to fund public safety initiatives within the county.
Grundy voters will be asked, "To pay for public safety purposes, shall Grundy County be authorized to impose an increase on its share of local sales taxes by .50%? This would mean that a consumer would pay an additional 50 cents in sales tax for every $100.00 of tangible property bought at retail."
    Grundy County would only be able to use the revenue generated for public safety purposes, which would include but not be limited to crime prevention, detention, emergency services and police services.
    Public safety services comprise more than 60 percent of the county’s general fund budget.
    A Public Safety Tax would apply to the sale of tangible goods just like regular sales tax, but does not apply to prescription and non-prescription medicines and drugs, food for human consumption that is consumed off the premises where it is sold, medical appliances and insulin, urine testing materials, syringes, and needles used by diabetics, personal property titled or registered with an agency of this state's government, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, trailers, etc. , nor does it apply to other items that are currently exempt from sales tax like farm machinery.
    The proposed tax is estimated to generate $1.2 million annually to spend on public safety purposes for each 0.25 percent of public safety tax implemented.
Grundy County’s current sales tax rate is the lowest in the state of Illinois. If the proposed Public Safety Tax is approved and implemented, the County’s rate of 6.75 percent would still be among the lowest in the region.