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Presented with three options for a new tax levy, the Vandalia City Council decided on Monday not to go with any of those.
Instead, the council voted to proceed with the approval of a levy with a total that is 10 percent above last year’s total tax extension.
At a special meeting, the council received three levy options from Dale Timmermann of Timmermann & Co. Ltd. – one that mirrors the 2009 extended levy total of $559,070.41; one that’s 5 percent above that total, $587,0245; and one with a 20.94-percent increase, $676,153.
The third option presented by Timmermann is one that was rejected by the council in a 5-4 vote at its Dec. 6 meeting, with Mayor Rick Gottman casting the deciding vote.
The discussion on which option it would bring to a vote at next Monday’s regular council meeting began with Alderman Larry Bennett continuing his support for the 20.94-percent increase.
“For about a year, Dale has been telling us that if we don’t do something, it’s just going to get worse over time,” Bennett said.
“I could see that (no increases) being all right if you were running big reserves in your funds. But that’s not our case – our case is more one of desperation,” he said.
Bennett said he didn’t realize until the night of the vote on the 20.94-percent increase “that we weren’t levying to the max in some funds,” and he felt that’s something the city should be doing in its current financial situation.
“I will not vote for any proposed levy that does not have those rates at that (maximum) level,” he said.
Alderman Mike Hobler said, “That would be fine if the average taxpayer had big reserves. If we can increase this gradually, year by year, instead of – bang, 20 percent – people on limited incomes can budget for that.”
Alderman Jerry Swarm said he favors another option.
“I think there’s other types of taxes that we could look at and possibly pass that would be more equitable to everybody,” Swarm said.
With, for example, a sales tax increase, residents of the lake area and subdivisions outside the city – as well as visitors to the community – “could help fund that,” he said.
In response, Bennett said, “My history is that these other taxes aren’t as reliable as property taxes.”
Referring to his career as a superintendent of schools, Bennett said, “I spent a career sweating out property taxes, and I just think it’s a mistake (not to levy at maximum rates).”
After a motion was made to draft a levy ordinance with a 5-percent increase, Alderman Andy Lester voiced his support for a larger increase.
With the city struggling with a budget deficit, Lester said, “It (levy) has got to go up.
“We don’t have a game plan as to how we get squared away. We’re sitting here trying to work out this thing, and we don’t have a game plan – that’s basically what it amounts to.”
“I own as much property as anybody on this board, and I voted to raise my taxes,” he said, noting that he voted for the 20.94-percent increase.
“In that room,” Lester said, gesturing back toward the room where the council meets in closed session, “we were all going to do it.” Then, he said, some aldermen chose not to support the increase.
“I’m not comfortable with raising any individual’s taxes, but we all know that Dale has been pounding it into our heads – we know what we’ve got to do,” Lester said.
Bennett said, We’re doing all kinds of things, working on the expenditure side, but we’re on the revenue side and it’s the hardest side to find money.
“That money is there, and it’s totally legal for us to ask for that money,” he said.
Lester suggested that the council “split the difference” and go with a 10-percent increase.
“We’ve got to make some steps,” he said. “This council has failed to make some steps in the past, so we’ve got to get caught up.”
The motion for a levy with a 10-percent increase passed in a 6-2 vote, with Lester, Swarm, Larry Cable, Hobler, Bret Brosman and Lisa McNutt voting for it, and Bennett and Dean Black casting dissenting votes.
The council will vote on the new levy next Monday, eight days before the deadline to file the document with the county. Failure to meet that deadline would mean that the county would not receive tax monies from the county next year.