While two proposed 1 percent sales taxes in St. Clair County could drive shoppers away from an area considered a local hotspot for retail, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly says the county has to invest in its community in order to grow.
On April 4, voters will decide in separate questions whether to impose the 1 percent sales tax referendums to benefit schools and public safety.
“Strong school, strong public safety, that in the long term means a brighter future for the community,” Kelly said.
He added that the two should not be competing against each other, but should be complementing each other.
“We have to play chess, not checkers, with the future of this community,” he said.
Kelly added that the county must address the public safety issue if it hopes to improve economic development.
He said areas that have access to highways and waterways that would typically be hotspots for economic development are being overlooked by businesses and investors because of the perception that they are not safe based on the “disproportionate rate of crime.”
“If you want to help the county reach its full potential, you have to make it safe,” he said.
Local Chambers of Commerce have not taken public positions on the issue.
Requests for comment from local retailers and outspoken opponents of the sales tax were not answered.
The Illinois Policy Institute is an outspoken critic of tax incrases of any kind, pointing to population outmigration as a consequence of overtaxation.
Sales taxes in particular are "fundamentally regressive and hurt lower-income residents the most," policy analyst Brendan Bakala wrote last month. "And like property taxes, sales taxes also hurt middle-class people, making everything from a trip to the grocery store to holiday shopping more expensive."
Kelly said the county chose to propose the sales tax increase approach to ease the burden on local taxpayers. He explained that 35 percent of the county’s income comes from outside the county.
Neither sales tax applies to groceries, medications or titled vehicles. However, Kelly said it is unclear whether the sales tax would apply to other household necessities like diapers or baby formula.
If passed, each tax is expected to bring in an additional $22 million per year.
The additional $22 million for public safety would be distributed as follows:
- 25 percent, or roughly $5.5 million, for police and fire services distributed to municipalities and unincorporated areas on a per capita basis
- $2 million for probation services
- $6 million for jail modernization and renovation
- $1 million for courthouse security renovations
- $5.6 million for sheriff’s personnel
- $500,000 for a county wide-use police shooting range
- $50,000 for a county wide emergency alert system
- $250,000 for State’s Attorney Office crime prosecution and reduction
- $500,000 to the Metro East Police District Commission for the implementation of District public safety plan
- $200,000 to the Coroner’s Office
- $200,000 to support the Child Advocacy Center, Court Appointed Special Advocates, senior citizen neglect and abuse prevention programs and other evidence based crime reduction programs
- $200,000 for criminal justice information technology integration
The resolution states that the upgrades to jail would “ensure public safety” and “minimize tax payer exposure to civil liabilities,” while also helping to accommodate individuals with mental health issues.
The public safety tax would only be in effect for 12 years.
The school districts in the county will split the $22 million based on student population. The money would be used for school facilities, including construction, maintenance and renovation.
In support of the proposed sales taxes, a Facebook campaign was started called “Vote Yes for Safety, Vote Yes for Kids, Yes for our Future.”
In a lengthy post on March 28, the campaign states that most St. Clair County homeowners will see their property taxes go down if the sales tax is passed.
“Area school districts have pledged to use a large portion of the funds to abate property taxes, saving the owners of a $100,000 home up to $200, depending on where they live,” the post states.
“The proposed sales tax isn’t a tax increase. It’s a reform of the school funding system that relies on local leaders – not state politicians that local voters can’t kick out of office if they don’t do right by our kids – to decide how are (sic) money is used.
“It’s not about spending more money. It’s about being SMARTER with our money,” the post continues.
“Naysayers speculate the referendum is the work of ‘out of state investment bankers’ who are hoping to profit on new bond issues. But, where this referendum has passed already, the evidence proves that there are two groups who profit the most: property owners and our children,” it continues.
Records at the State Board of Elections show that construction companies and building contractors are supporting passage of the sales tax increase with donations to the group Citizens for St. Clair County Schools.
The single largest contribution of $10,000 came from Poettker Construction in Breese last month.