DANVILLE — Several downtown property owners have signed a petition that would eliminate a 30-year-old special tax that generates more than $50,000 a year, and makes up a significant portion of the revenues of Downtown Danville Inc., the organization that promotes the city's downtown.
Pat O'Shaughnessy, co-owner of Vermilion County Title in downtown Danville, said that he began on Wednesday morning circulating a petition to eliminate the tax, and so far, has several signatures of downtown property owners. According to city ordinance, he said, he needs signatures of at least 51 percent of the property owners in the service area to repeal the tax that downtown property owners created in 1982. There are about 107 parcels, according to O'Shaughnessy, in the special-service area, but some have the same ownership. The area is bounded by Main Street, Walnut Street, Hazel Street and Madison Street.
O'Shaughnessy told Danville aldermen at Tuesday night's city council meeting that he wants to eliminate the tax that currently has a rate of $1.63 per $100 of assessed value. O'Shaughnessy said the tax makes up 14 percent, or more than $500, of the most recent property tax bill for his business. By comparison, he said, the city's tax rate is $1.97 per $100 of assessed value, and the county's rate is $1.37 per $100 of assessed value. He said his total tax rate for his business is $11.62 per $100.
DDI was created in 1983, the same years as the special-service area tax, with a mission "to promote a vibrant business, residential and entertainment district while serving as a catalyst for economic, social and cultural enrichment." DDI has an office downtown, an executive director, Dana Schaumburg, and is a member of the Illinois Main Street program, and partners with community groups to offer events like the Summer Sounds downtown concert series and the Night of Lights parade during the holiday season.
Earlier this year, city administration proposed eliminating its $30,000 in annual funding to DDI. Mayor Scott Eisenhauer told aldermen that city administrators believe city money could be spent in other ways that would better benefit the downtown, and the city already spent an additional $100,000 on the downtown last year. That money included salaries of one and a half full-time workers in the areas of parking enforcement, special-event support and increased maintenance and beautification of the downtown. In response to the city's proposed cut in funding, DDI cut its part-time staff and made other budgetary changes in preparation for a loss of $30,000.
But some aldermen disagreed with cutting DDI funding and wanted either all of the money or part of it restored. At Tuesday's meeting, aldermen settled on a compromise, giving DDI $10,000 for its current fiscal year.
"It's time to shrink taxes and government," O'Shaughnessy said. "It's nothing about personnel or programming. Downtown Danville has changed. It's no longer a merchant-focused area. It's a service-dominated area. The (current) program and events could continue on a volunteer basis, and it's time to give the small businessman a break."
O'Shaughnessy said he supports creating an all-volunteer organization that would continue to support programming and events in downtown Danville. He said he doesn't believe eliminating the special-service area tax will put an end to the Summer Sounds concerts, the Night of Lights parade, the Easter egg hunt or other events. He said if there weren't a tax, the volunteer base would be stronger.
Leo Bratland, owner of Bratland Prescription Shop, 8 E North St., in downtown Danville, said he understands concerns of property owners in favor of eliminating the tax. Bratland was a former DDI board member but hasn't been on the board for several years.
"But I guess I would have to say that I would not like to see DDI gone completely. I think it's served a good purpose," said Bratland, adding that the city has done a good job working on the appearance of downtown, and he appreciates that. "But if (the city) decided not to do that, then we have no one doing anything for us. We could get a new mayor, or aldermen change, and all of sudden priorities change."
Bratland said he doesn't like all the taxes either, and as a pharmacy owner, he pays many regulatory fees, which he considers taxes and feels as if he's being "taxed to death" sometimes. But for the time being, he said, he's willing to support the special-service area tax and would like to see DDI continue.
Downtown Danville Inc. revenues, expenses for 2011
Some downtown Danville property owners have signed a petition to eliminate the special-service area tax, paid only by properties within the downtown area. The tax generates more than $50,000 annually for the operating budget of Downtown Danville Inc., the organization that promotes Danville's downtown. Below is a break down of DDI's revenue and expenses for 2011. City administration also proposed cutting its $30,000 to DDI for this year, but Tuesday night, aldermen approved a compromise to give DDI $10,000 this year.
Special Service Area Tax - $53,035
City of Danville grant - $30,000
Building rental income - $3,600
Special events (i.e. Summer Sounds) /promotion - $61,609
Total payroll/FICA/benefits - $56,882
Office and supplies - $15,725
Legal/accounting/insurance - $6,993
Special events/promotion - $54,012
Image marketing - $4,468
Business recruitment - $8,060