CHAMPAIGN — Your dinner and drinks just got a bit more expensive.
City council members on Tuesday voted to approve a 2 percent increase to the food-and-beverage tax effective Jan. 1, which will add a few cents to your dinner bill but will also raise about $5.6 million to fund unmet city needs.
Among them: fire department staffing, public safety and community wellness initiatives, and major infrastructure projects.
But council members aren’t yet getting specific about where the money will go. With goal-setting sessions scheduled for the fall, member Greg Stock said it’s best to wait.
“We can vote for the tax increase without voting for the specific things it will be paying for,” Stock said. “It seems sort of problematic to say that this is where all the money will go and then two months later, maybe our goals have shifted.”
Stock said he’d support the new money paying for six new police officers and retaining two firefighters, for example, but was stuck on the more than $500,000 requested for the new Youth and Family Empowerment Initiative.
When it was first proposed in May, the request was put at between $200,000 and $250,000 in recurring expenses for the city, with a match from the Champaign school district. Following council recommendations, that request was doubled, though details are murky on what exactly that money will pay for.
Stock said “without knowing more, it would be hard for me right this second to say ‘Here’s another $250,000.’ That’s a lot of money.”
He said he agreed with his fellow council members in May that the program was underfunded when first proposed, “but I don’t know where the magic number is.”
But council member Matt Gladney said he was concerned about the fairness of keeping options open through the goal-setting meetings.
“When we asked for basically a tax-rate increase and keep things very nebulous, I don’t know how fair that is,” he said.
It seemed, though, that most council members shared Stock’s concerns about specifying where the new funds will go. Council member Vanna Pianfetti said she was happy to hear from staff members that there is flexibility, and voiced reluctance to give the empowerment initiative the full amount sought.
“For me, to set aside money when we’re not all sure what our goals are and how we might strategically look at expenditures makes me kind of uncomfortable,” she said. “I’m not saying I’m not supportive — I certainly am — but that’s a large chunk of money to put aside. And to continue funding on a recurring basis is something we need to have some thought and consideration about.”