(Editor's note: The business referenced in this letter is McCullough's Flooring).
To the Editor:
Taxpayers and voters, please remember to vote on April 4. Our city cannot afford another four years of the current administration. The precious dollars you earn from which the city extracts should not be expended on lending your money to businesses. If businesses want to stay in business, they need to find a way to do so, but not on the backs of us taxpayers.
On the city of Belleville’s Feb. 1 agenda, there was listed an item under Economic Development, "Consider request of loan forgiveness for [business] based on significant increases in sales and employment figures, per a provision in an existing development agreement.”
On Jan. 31, I asked Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert in an email why the business was asking for loan forgiveness.
In the years, 2008-2010, our economy plummeted across the United States. But during this time, the City Council approved a loan of $95,000 to this business.
It is incomprehensible to ask the taxpayers to forgive a loan during which time they paid property taxes (not knowing when they would land a job) and foreclosures were at an all-time high.
This business now appears to be generating great revenues. However, to come back and ask for forgiveness of the loan is an insult. Taxpayers struggle every day to make ends meet; the City increases the property taxes by 5 percent year after year; the City Treasurer has increased sewers bills by 8 percent year after year and 1 percent sales tax is the customary request these days. What do you think the everyday person is made of? Enough!!
Perhaps those included in the wheeling and dealing and back room meetings with Eckert - the aldermen voting for the loan Heisler, Kinsella, Meyer, Daenzer, Anderson, Rujawitz, Syzdek, Carpenter, Hoercher, Silsby, Seibert, Martinson, LeChien, Elmore, and Kreher - should ante up and forgive the loan with their personal funds.
Is the City of Belleville a lending institution? Why does the City not require a lien on the property until obligations of an agreement is settled? What funding source was tapped in which the money was loaned?
This loan forgiveness request is unethical.
Mayor Eckert did not respond to my email. However, on Jan. 31, Alderman Roger Wigginton responded with the following emails:
"I’ll answer your question. They are not asking for loan forgiveness. They have fulfilled their obligation above what was required. Their business is very good and because we could partner with them they are very successful. I don't appreciate your attack on the mayor & council when you don't have the facts straight."
•The business still owes $48,192 on the loan.
•The business failed to meet the conservative taxable sales figures for the first two years of the agreement ($1.56 million).
•Some of the employees listed were recently laid off during slow times.
"Also, the county sets the property taxes not the city. The increase in sewer taxes are a result of the mandate by the EPA to improve & update our sewer systems & services."
•City Council sets the levy and on Dec. 19, 2016, the council voted to approve the levy in the amount of $9,772,000...maybe you should read your packet.
•Regarding the increased sewer "taxes" how about using the correct word “rates." It is ever so difficult for people on a fixed income to continue to afford the increasing rates the city treasurer sets and the council approved. Why not put the cost on the tax bill...at least the people could use it as a tax write off on their income taxes.
"The one thing you are correct about is the economy in 2008 & 2009. The recession was over in 2010. During that time the city was very fiscally responsible in hiring & cutting costs. They held the line on expenses."
•I have no idea what world you live in. The 2008-2009 struggling economy was not over in 2010. Some people were displaced during that time and are still struggling and still out of work.
I filed a FOIA regarding said loan and I wanted to share my findings.
The City did, in fact, loan the business $60,000 (from TIF 3) on Dec. 11, 2009 and $35,000 (from TIF 3) on Dec. 20, 2010. The current outstanding balance is $48,192.
The City did not collect any monies the first two years; therefore, the business was delinquent. On Oct. 28, 2016, the business emailed the City asking for forgiveness of the loan and on Nov. 14, 2016 the City emailed back "if [business] will make one more payment, the City will recommend to the council that the remainder of the loan be forgiven."
And then, Mayor Eckert thought it best to take it to Economic Development (yes, I consider that email communication a backdoor meeting).
So, Mayor Eckert takes the taxpayers money from TIF 3, gives it to the business and then the Mayor decides to tell the business it doesn't have to repay the loan in full.
Vote this administration out on April 4.