Chamber hits Champaign council on tax increase proposal

CHAMPAIGN — Chamber of Commerce members are upset with a decision this week to raise the city sales tax rate one quarter of a percentage point, and the group's president said it should have been given more time to submit feedback.

Champaign County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Laura Weis said on Thursday that the general public was not given enough time to vet the information presented to the Champaign City Council, and an 8-1 straw poll in favor of the tax increase on Tuesday should have been delayed.

"There's a lot of information to go through, and we really just wanted council to take some time so that organizations like ourself or so the general community would have time to go over the proposal," Weis said.

Most of the council members who voted for the sales tax increase — which brings the total rate from 8.75 to 9 percent — were adamant in their position on Tuesday that they had already spent weeks debating the decision. The city council has spent most of May deliberating over its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and it voted on May 14 to give an extra $1.7 million to the library and police and fire departments.

Those extra expenses meant city officials had to find more money to pay for them, and the options were outlined in a May 24 memo from city administrators to council members. The straw poll to increase the sales tax rate followed on May 28, and that decision likely will be formalized if council members adopt the budget on June 4.

Weis said that did not give the chamber enough time to field input from its members over the holiday weekend. The chamber sent a letter to council members on the day of the vote asking for more time.

"We have members who are frustrated, we have members who are unhappy, we have members who are still struggling financially," Weis said. "Every single business in this community has had to tighten their belts, and there's the same expectation from our members that government should do the same."

On the night of the vote, council members debated taking more time to look at budget cuts before tax increases. Deborah Frank Feinen, the only council member to vote against the increase, did so because she felt there was little effort put into cutting expenses before looking for new revenue.

Council member Will Kyles, who supported the tax increase, said during the meeting that maybe the council should examine the budget one more time.

"Some council members may feel that we've done that, and I'm just expressing that if there's some more information that's out there, I don't think that's a bad idea to publicly talk about it," Kyles said.

But most of the council disagreed that city officials had not done their due diligence, and the vote proceeded.

"It's a complicated decision, it's a difficult decision, it's an unpleasant decision," said council member Tom Bruno. "But it's not one that we haven't studied thoroughly."

Weis said she plans to continue accepting input from chamber members, and she will still communicate those comments to the city council.

She said that, on top of other government actions during the recession years — for example, a city storm water fee for which bills are now starting to be delivered — the costs add up.

"Maybe isolated, it's not a big deal," Weis said. "But when it's one cent here and two cents here and a quarter cent here, that adds up. We have a lot of businesses here that are not out of the woods yet after the recession. They're still struggling."

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ericbussell wrote on May 31, 2013 at 7:05 am

This just sounds like a whole lot of nothing. If the members of the Chamber of Commerce are upset, and I imagine many of them are, they have quit whining to Laura and board members like a bunch of little b****** and actively support the candidates that are most palatable. If I don't see your name highlighted on the Business Empowered PAC filing, or on the PAC filings for candidates endorsed by Business Empowered, I don't think the Chamber should waste time taking your calls on these matters.  If the business community chooses to give policy makers an incentive to hold the line on taxes and live within their means, I think it would be welcomed by many who are sick and tired of endless tax/fee hikes.  Until then, policy makers like Tom Bruno can mock chamber supporters because he and others know there is no bite behind the bark.  

EL YATIRI wrote on May 31, 2013 at 8:05 am
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yep, they are reaping what they sowed

big10bum wrote on May 31, 2013 at 8:05 am

News flash to you Miss Weis: The city council will raise and or approve  the sales tax hike whether they hear from your members or not?! I don't approve of the hike either as a tax paying resident, but I am not glued to the media sources wanting to know what the chamber's stance or its members have on it? I am a little curious why we have the Champaign COUNTY Chamber anyway? As i can stroll through and find the Urbana Business Association, Mahomet Chamber, Rantoul Chamber, what do these towns need your office for? Maybe you all need to go to working part time hours? Keep up the good work Convention & Visitor's Bureau on getting new events/conferences to town, always good to see people earning a paycheck?

ericbussell wrote on May 31, 2013 at 10:05 am

The Chamber of Commerce is a critical entity and plays the role of facilitor, enabling employers to collectively address community matters that impact their business.  I can't speak for other Chamber members, but I'm too busy running my business to do Laura's job and I feel that Laura is the ideal person to be running the Chamber.  I look forward to the day when the Chamber Board and Chamber members decide to implement and support and much more aggressive and proactive stance when it comes to holding the line on taxes and encouraging taxing bodies to live within their means, just like we do in the business world.  

Fortunately, the Chamber has been taking steps in the right direction with the implementation of the Business Empowered PAC and I can only hope that news articles like this encourage members (and prospective members) to actually stand up and do more than complain about what someone else isn't doing.  

read the DI wrote on June 01, 2013 at 2:06 am

"The Chamber of Commerce is a critical entity..."

You mispelled "cosmetic." The Chamber isn't a critical anything. And they were very late on this.

That said, they are correct for a change.

 

ericbussell wrote on June 01, 2013 at 11:06 am

 

There are certainly enough puff piece organizations for businesses in this community.   The Chamber is the only game in town that offers the potential for meaningful advocacy.  

big10bum wrote on June 02, 2013 at 9:06 am

"Potential" is the key word in your post, wishing it was reality?! Continued success in your future postings/campaign to be granted a position on the "Yes ma'am" board of the chamber.

ericbussell wrote on June 03, 2013 at 8:06 am

The chamber has more than enough people willing to attend a meeting.  If the chamber is willing to get more aggressive on advocacy, I would be more than happy to pay a higher membership fee.  

Joe American wrote on May 31, 2013 at 1:05 pm

This had to be approached carefully, much like telling someone that you're moderately close to that they have bad breath:

http://www.wikihow.com/Use-Question-Marks-Correctly

cmstites wrote on May 31, 2013 at 8:05 am

I love being forced to pay for a Library i dont use.. The library never should have been built in the first place..It's not the residents fault they built a overly expensive library. The city council members should of just donated thier pay if they were a part of the decision to build the library in the first place.

EL YATIRI wrote on May 31, 2013 at 8:05 am
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I agree, it would have been wiser to put a user fee on those who use the library.  I use the library myself and a $20 dollar a year fee would have been reasonable for me.  Heck they could have even made it sliding scale based on income.

serf wrote on May 31, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Ha.  You do realize that your annual fee would be hundreds of dollars per year, not 20 bucks.  Don't let reality get in your way...

EL YATIRI wrote on May 31, 2013 at 7:05 pm
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Reality is this: if I could not afford it, I would do without.  We can't keep spending what we don't have, and it isn't fair to make others pay for our stuff.

C in Champaign wrote on May 31, 2013 at 10:05 am

It isn't the Library that costs so much, it's the people working there. Operating expenses are only about 20% of a $5.7 million budget.

danrice56 wrote on May 31, 2013 at 3:05 pm

No one is forcing you. Do what I do. Don't shop in Champaign anymore.

C in Champaign wrote on May 31, 2013 at 10:05 am

I am curious about something... How many full time equivalent employees does the library have. I ask because if you do some quick math, based on the 2010-11 Annual Report, personell expense ($4,460,613.00 Total) is roughly $1,240 PER HOUR that the library is open. At these numbers, they can fund 100 employees at an AVERAGE of $44,000 each...  Seems like working at the library might be a pretty good gig.

constantly amazed wrote on May 31, 2013 at 1:05 pm
C in Champaign wrote on May 31, 2013 at 3:05 pm

So an average salary w/ benefits of more than $54,000. Like I said, good gig.

rsp wrote on June 01, 2013 at 9:06 pm

50 FTE, 48 PTE, and 28 library pages. Not an average salary of $54,000. Not even counting employer's share on social security. 

I'm Lovin' It wrote on May 31, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Don't forget to account for the employer portion of SS in your "calculation."