Although tax increases are normal functions of a city, council members had mixed emotions at the City Council meeting Tuesday about the city tax hike to be imposed next year.
The major reason for the city tax increase is the state raise in pension benefits for city workers. The fire pension fund will be decreased by $45,028, but the police pension contributions will increase by $432,450. General fund revenue sources will be used to cover some of the contributions, but a total of $40,407 will be added to the 2012 tax levy amount.
Kevin Baity, city manager, said this will raise the overall city taxes by 4.98 percent.
Councilman Chris Wissmann said the pension growth rate in Illinois is more than alarming and can make for a distressful future for all cities in the state.
He said while he may not be on the council when the raises will become unbearable, he realizes it is an issue that will have to be dealt with eventually.
“Every year it gets harder and harder for us to do anything other than pay for these pensions, and if we don’t get a handle on it we’re going to have to take very drastic actions at some point,” Wissmann said. “I’m not going to be on the council when that happens; I pity you guys.”
Mayor Joel Fritzler said although the city saved more than $500,000 on an insurance switch, the money saved from the change goes to many different parts of city funds, and some of it will now be used to abate the pension contributions.
“Again, we have really no control over the state legislature who kind of sets (pension contributions) for us, and then we get to pay for it,” he said.
Councilman Don Monty said the current pension system is unsuccessful because although the city workers deserve pension raises, decreases to pensions should be allowed on a local level.
“It’s really a system that does not work, and that part of the system needs to be reformed,” Monty said.
There was an amendment on the 2012 state election ballot to the number of voters needed to pass a pension increase within legislature, Wissmann said, but many believed it would be used to take away pensions.
The amendment failed to pass, Wissmann said, and was equally distressing because public workers should still have pensions.
Citizens have spoken out about the tax raise as well.
Councilperson Jane Adams said she received several emails from concerned citizens in response to the tax hike.
One resident said she was angry at the proposal and would look for another area to live in if she were younger.
Adams said she was shocked to hear others say they are sorry to live in Carbondale because of the taxes.
“It really sent me on my heels because we want people to live in Carbondale and make people feel good about living here,” she said. “I think it’s something that we have to watch really, really carefully and make sure we’re squeezing every penny of value out of the taxes people pay and trust us with.”
Other tax contributions besides the pensions are being raised as well.
The Carbondale Public Library sent a note to the city and requested that Carbondale levy $940,556 for its 2014 fiscal year operations.
According to the agenda, the money is a mandated expense, so the city must adopt the levy.
Adams pointed out one citizen who emailed her wasn’t upset about the library tax increase, because the library is a feature all Carbondale residents can enjoy.
Although many will look to reform the pension system, Wissmann said taxpayers might have to wait quite some time before positive changes in the system can be seen.
“That’s going to have to come from Springfield, so don’t hold your breath — unless you really enjoy asphyxiation,” Wissmann said.