Sales Tax Hike Possible

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A first-round vote is in on how to fund improvements to Rockford's roads. The city council's planning and development committee voted against trying to increase property taxes, in favor of paying up at the cash register.
If the full city council accepts its committee's recommendation, we'll see a referendum for a one percent sales tax increase on our April ballots.
"We have an opportunity to have a tax that will replace a portion of property taxes, take the burden off property owners and spread it out to everyone that uses the roads," says Alderman John Beck.
If enough voters say yes to that referendum, the city will get an additional 16 million dollars to improve Rockford's roads, bridges and storm water management system -- found lacking during the Labor Day floods. The tax would be reassessed after 5 years.
"It's really kind of embarrassing to have a community with our major roads that are in such poor condition and we're never going to be able to get caught up if we don't have sufficient resources," says Beck.
The tax hike is facing tough opposition. The Winnebago County Taxpayer Advocates placed an ad in Friday's Register Star telling people to call their aldermen and speak against the increase.
But Beck says, "I've gotten as many calls for it as I have against it, which is encouraging. You know the opponents are going to try and spin it to sound bad, just like they did last year, I think it's unfortunate that when they put their spin on it, they leave out part of the truth."
Many present at Monday's city council meeting feel the committee picked the lesser of two evils.
Paul Arena, President of the Rockford Apartment Association says, "If you're taking that funding need for the roads and spreading it out between everyone who's using the roads. It's not just people who live in the city, people who come in from out of the city, it's a more fair way to do it."
If the sales tax increase goes through, it would transfer financing for road maintenance from property taxes to sales.
The city currently has $50 million dollars in outstanding bond payments for previous road projects. As that is paid off, new property taxes would go down by five to eight cents a year.
The full city council will address the issue next Monday. Aldermen have until the beginning of February to decide on a referendum to place on the April ballot.
The Planning and Development Committee also voted to eliminate a $15 vehicle registration sticker tax.