Council favors keeping 2013 levy at same level as this year's

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

With the city’s auditor presenting the options of increasing the tax levy or keeping it the same for next year, Vandalia aldermen said that they favor the latter.
However, their plan to accomplish that differs from that suggested by the auditor.
Mayor Rick Gottman presented to aldermen on Monday night the two levy options prepared by Timmermann and Co. Ltd.
The first option calls for the 2013 levy to equal the 2012 extended levy, with a total of $620,044. The second option calls for a levy increase, with all individual levies remaining the same except for the police pension fund.
As required by law, the city must fully fund that pension fund, which translates to an increase of $19,373 in the 2013 levy.
That increase, in combination with keeping all other levy funds the same, would increase the total levy to $639,417, a hike of 3.12 percent.
If the city wished to keep the levy at the 2012 total, the auditor proposed, it could decrease the fire protection levy by $19,373.
Alderman Terry Beesley was the first to voice his opinion, saying that while he would like to keep the tax levy the same, he didn’t support the auditor’s recommendation.
“I don’t know that we can decrease (the) fire protection (levy),” Beesley said.
“Considering the recent purchase two weeks ago (of a new ladder truck), and keeping taxes the way that they are and having a substantially larger payment on the truck coming than the one that just got paid off, decreasing fire protection, I don’t think, is a good idea,” he said.
A short time after Alderman Jerry Swarm said that he agreed with Beesley, Alderman Andy Lester suggested an option to lowering the fire protection levy.
“I would support keeping it (the tax levy) the same and that fire protection needs to go back to what it was last year, then (the) corporate (levy) needs to go down $19,373.
“And we just need to do whatever we’ve got to do to cut $19,373.
“We’re talking about $19,000, so surely we can do what’s necessary,” Lester said.
Alderman Dorothy Crawford agreed.
“I definitely don’t want to go raising taxes,” she said. “There’s got to be somewhere else we can get that $19,000 other than the safety of the citizens of Vandalia.”
Aldermen agreed to go with Lester’s recommendation to decrease by $19,373 the corporate levy, which generates monies for the city’s general fund.
The council is scheduled to vote on the 2013 levy at its Dec. 2 meeting.
Also at the meeting, the council – at Gottman’s recommendation – directed City Attorney Jack Johnston to draft an ordinance related to the sale of vacant commercial buildings.
Gottman told aldermen that several communities have passed ordinances to prevent owners of commercial buildings from doing nothing to those properties as they sell them for salvage.
The mayor has learned that in other towns, owners of large commercial buildings have simply walked away from those properties. “I want to make sure that doesn’t happen in Vandalia,” Gottman said.
The council supported his recommendation to draft an ordinance that requires the owners of such properties “have it taken back to regular soil.” That means getting rid of all buildings, asphalt, piping and everything else on the property, Gottman said.
Beesley asked what the penalty would be for violating such an ordinance, Johnston said that the maximum penalty is either $500 or $750.
Beesley said he would like to see a much higher penalty, and other aldermen agreed.
“I think we should make the fine very substantial,” B. John Clark said.
Johnston said that the city “can build into your ordinance a more severe penalty.”
In other action on Monday:
• The council approved the purchase of equipment for a new police squad car from Whiteside Communications in Sorento. Included in the $5,410 purchase are lights, sirens, wiring, a radio and a gun rack.
• The council approved the transfer of Vandalia Lake lot No. 27 from Glen Daniels of Vandalia to Larry and Janet Rench of Vandalia.
• The council approved the purchase of insurance from the Illinois Municipal League Risk Management Association for $138,263.46, which is an increase of $2,741.25 over the current premium.
City Clerk Peggy Bowen said that the coverage includes property and liability insurance, and workers compensation.
Gottman said that a local carrier had expressed an interest in the coverage, but didn’t submit a bid.
• Bowen reported that after the city had received a check from the state for water and sewer service at Vandalia Correctional Center for September, but not August, she made a call to Springfield. In addition to that oversight, Bowen said, she reminded the state that the October bill was due.
“We got all three checks on Friday. They are caught up,” Bowen said. “We have a good relationship.”
•  While saying that the weekend’s Olde Tyme Christmas was a big success, Crawford said she is prepared to make one recommendation for next year.
Crawford said that she would like to see the city close traffic in all blocks of Gallatin downtown, “at least on Friday night.”
She said that because the block in front of the Statehouse was closed off, some people assumed that all blocks were. “There were people pushing strollers down the middle of the street,” Crawford said.
But Gottman said they tried that before, and it hurt the event. He said that closing traffic in all four blocks cuts down on parking “and people won’t come downtown.”