Editor's Note: Vandalia Alderman Neil Clark read this letter at Monday's city council meeting. He also submitted it as a letter to the editor.
This city council will vote tonight to approve or disapprove a tax levy for the city for the fiscal year of 2011.
On Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m., the council held a public meeting to discuss the tax levy for the 2011 fiscal year. The auditor for the city, Dale Timmermann, was present to be questioned and to answer questions regarding the proposed tax levy.
I was surprised and disappointed that no citizens of this city were present at that public hearing to express their views. Maybe the citizens were unaware of the meeting, which causes me to question as to whether the citizens are being adequately informed of public hearings that affect them as Vandalia citizens. I suggest that we need to look for ways to inform our citizens of any and all public meetings including the date, time and agenda of same and suggest that we attempt to enlist the cooperation of our local news media to inform the public of such meetings.
The council was presented with three options – A, B or C – for the 2011 tax levy, plus the option for any council member to propose any other option he or she may propose. No council member proposed considering any options other than A, B or C.
Each option – A, B and C – included an increase in the police pension fund, an increase from the 2010 levy of $5,063. That increase is the amount of money, as explained by Mr. Timmermann, recommended by the actuary predicting the amount of money needed to meet the minimum amount to fund the police pension fund. As I understand, the city is contractually obligated and under law obligated to fund the police pension fund.
Each A, B or C 2011 possible levies will fund the police pension fund.
Option tax levy C would only fund the police pension and result in no increase in the 2011 tax levy when compared to the proposed the 2010 levy. However, the corporate levy, which we refer to as the general fund, would be decreased by $5,063.
Option A restores to the corporate fund the $5,063 used to fund the police pension fund.
In attempting to present a balanced budget for this city, the mayor, members of this city council and the heads of all city departments spent a lot of time and, I think, personal stress in deciding where decreases could be made in the budgets of every department of this city.
It was not an easy decision of any or all that were involved in this difficult process. Budgets were cut and then cut again to what we believed was the “bare bone.” Some personnel positions were either eliminated or not replaced which, in some instances, drastically affected the lives of some employees.
Budget cuts have resulted in the city not being able to, for example, maintain streets as in the past because the money to do so is simply not available.
Thankfully, city employees realized the financial situation of the city and cooperated in every way possible – taking furlough days, for example – and recently agreeing to continue working under present employment agreements with the city, pending negotiations regarding future employment contracts.
In my opinion as a member of this council since May 2011, there has been an attempt by the city administration, the majority of the elected representatives and the majority of the city’s employees to make an effort to keep the city of Vandalia a fiscally viable entity.
Every unit of government from the federal level to the local level has just one source of revenue to fund its operations. That source is taxes and fees. I contend that fees, such as a vehicle license plate or a driver’s license, are simply a tax described by those who tax us as a fee because government bureaucrats think it is easier for us citizens to “swallow.” The fact is, we still have to pay it.
To the issue at hand, the tax levy of the city of Vandalia for 2011, which the council must adopt at this meeting.
When I ran for this seat as a Ward One alderman, I publicly stated that I would not vote for a tax increase. I believe that any person who heard or read my statement has a valid reason to question my truthfulness – my word of honor – if I cast a vote as a member of this council to increase a tax, and in this instance, an increase in the 2011 tax levy.
I will be asked at this meeting to vote on the 2011 tax levy, and I shall cast my vote for the option A, which will increase the levy on all real estate owners in the city of Vandalia.
It is not a vote that I will cast easily or without realizing the cost to all entities that pay real estate taxes on properties owned within the city.
Last week, I contacted the office of Rose Hoover, the Fayette County treasurer, and asked if it was possible to provide me with the number of real estate taxpayers within the city limits of Vandalia. I was informed by that office that, due to the fact that the information I requested was on the office’s computer system and they would have to contact the vendor of the software to see if it was possible to query the software for the information I was requesting, their office would attempt to answer my request. Late last week, I received the answer to my inquiry.
Within the city limits of Vandalia, there are 2,960 taxable parcels of real estate. Thus, as I understand, there are 2,960 individuals, businesses and corporations that are real estate owners that will receive a real estate tax bill in the future, which will be calculated on the tax levy rate that this council will either approve or disapprove tonight.
If this council votes to approve the option A, the option for which I will cast my vote tonight, it means this, if my calculation is correct:
Option A will increase the corporate levy by a total of $5,063.
Dividing the $5,063 by the 2,960 number of real estate taxpayers, the increase in the real estate tax bill will be $1.71 for each parcel of real estate the taxpayer owns in the city of Vandalia. Let me repeat. An increase of $1.71 for each parcel of real estate they own in the city limits of Vandalia.
I believe, and certainly hope, that the increase of $1.71 will not force a property owner into foreclosure or bankruptcy. And I’m not being facetious.
As a senior citizen member of this council, I realize that any increase in any tax or fee that this council enacts affects all citizens of the city, especially our senior citizens, of whom I am one. According to the 2010 census, this city has a large number of senior citizens as residents.
I assume that the majority of them are like me, dependant on a Social Security check for their month-to-month income. They, like me, have to make day-to-day and month-to-month decisions on how to pay for their living expenses.
For the first time in a year or two, Social Security recipients will receive an increase next year. That increase is supposed to be about 3.6 percent. For most Social Security recipients, that increase may be negated by in increase in the Part B of their Medicare coverage.
If not, they may be faced with my situation. I have a Blue Cross/Blue Shield supplementary Medicare insurance policy. All I can afford is the cheapest policy, which requires me to pay a deductible before the policy “kicks in.” I’ve already been informed that my premium for 2012 is going to be increased and my deductible is also being increased. It is also possible that my Part D, the prescription drug provision, may be increased – meaning I will pay more for the prescriptions I require.
In closing, I want to say to all citizens of Vandalia that I realize that every decision I make and every vote I make as a Ward One Alderman affects all citizens of this city, regardless of age, income or any other standard. I attempt to evaluate the impact that my vote will have on all citizens of this city. I realize that my actions as a member of the city council may not please everyone. However, I will attempt to use my common sense and decades of business experience to make decisions that I believe are the best for the citizens of my “adopted” hometown – Vandalia.
Ward One Alderman