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Residents voice opposition to proposed tax rate increases

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Twenty residents showed up on Monday evening to hear about the city of Vandalia’s plan to consider raising three rates on its new tax levy, and more than a quarter of them voiced opposition to the plan.
The city’s auditor, Timmermann and Co. Ltd., told city officials earlier this month that it could consider raising the corporate, fire protection and police protection rates to the maximum allowable by law as part of its effort to address a budget shortfall of about $250,000.
Monday’s public hearing was required under the state’s Truth in Taxation law, because if the council takes that action, the total tax levy would be 20.94 percent higher than the previous tax extension.
But Dale Timmermann explained that the overall tax increase for city residents would be 2.38 percent, due to the fact that the city is only one of several tax entities receiving monies from residents.
“Only a portion of taxes inside the city of Vandalia goes to the city,” Timmermann said.
He said the potential tax increase for a resident having a home valued at $100,000, with the assessed value being $33,333, is $62.86.
For a $150,000 home, he said, the tentative tax increase is $101.20, and for a $200,000 home, the estimated increase is $139.54.
He said that his firm’s suggestion to increase the three tax rates is one way “to partially solve your budget problem.”
The council is scheduled to vote on the proposed tax rate increases at its Dec. 6 meeting.
Many of those voicing opposition to the proposed tax rate increase said they believe that the city should look at cutting expenses instead of raising taxes.
Dawn Hedrick, who owns Higgins’ Cleaners with her husband, said that when she has financial issues at the business, “I make cuts.
“You’re just passing it on to the working people,” she said. “We can’t give much more. It’s got to end somewhere.
“I think there should be cuts made within (city operations),” she said, explaining that she believes, for example, that the city’s public works department runs the street sweeper more often than necessary.
Chad Feldpouch, a former city alderman, said that whenever a homeowner or a business owner is faced with deficits, “You don’t have taxpayers to step in for you.”
He said the city offers residents many services, “and maybe that’s where we need to start looking. There may be some things we will have to give up.”
Rick Cox, a city resident who operates a surveying business, said that he has had to lay off two employees. He said that he must act responsibly in operating his business.
“The city doesn’t have to,” Cox said, noting that the city’s answer is to raise taxes.
“If you ain’t got the money, you have got to cut personnel,” he said.
Bill Haselhorst told city officials that “politicians seem to have only one thing on their mind – they continually raise taxes.
“Why on earth don’t you raise the tax base instead of raising taxes,” Haselhorst said, urging city officials to concentrate more on luring new business and industry.
To that, Mayor Rick Gottman said that Director of Economic Development and Tourism JoAnn Givens works continually at just that.
Alderman Andy Lester told the audience that he owns a business and several properties in the city, so he understands what tax increases do to residents.
“This increase raises less than half of what we need to deal with the budget deficit,” he said, “so there are other things we are going to have to do.
“This is only one decision we’ve been forced to make. I don’t like it, either, but, personally, I don’t see what else we can do.
“We are looking at every option possible,” Lester said. “We are also open to any suggestions you have.”
Melvin Kern said that he has “no complaints whatsoever” about the city’s operations, but that there is something “that has sort of been a thorn in my side.”
Kern said the city has spent funds on “Twisters and deals like that,” and he encouraged city officials “to be a little more cautious with deals like that.
“Some of those (deals), like Motown, it looks like there hasn’t been enough research done,” he said.
After residents voiced their concerns, Mayor Rick Gottman said he “went through the budget this weekend, and I will be taking more cuts to the council on Dec. 6.”
The mayor said that the city has asked unions representing city employees to allow those employees to take furlough days through the end of the current fiscal year, which runs through April 30.
“If they don’t agree to furlough days, the council has directed layoffs to go into effect,” Gottman said.
He also noted that layoffs could be possible even if the unions agree to furlough days, and they know that.
“We have to keep all of our options open,” Gottman said.