CHAMPAIGN — Champaign City Council members are set to discuss next week whether to go along with a plan that would raise the food-and-beverage tax by 2 cents to pay for unfunded city needs.
They’ll pick up Tuesday night where they left off during their May 29 meeting, when city officials said council members had three options to fund about $4.1 million to $5.6 million worth of recurring needs, including fire department staffing, public safety and community wellness initiatives, and major infrastructure projects.
They could increase revenue. They could cut the budget.
Or they could do both.
Council members directed staff to study the 2-cent tax increase along with potential hikes to building permit fees, which could raise between $3 million and $5 million.
One proposal, from council member Alicia Beck, would have raised much more money — and more taxes.
Council member Tom Bruno believes it’s “premature to contemplate raising other taxes,” though he respected her “backbone to be able to start a discussion like this.” He said he’s more conservative than Beck but would support the 2-cent tax hike that she proposed in May.
“To me, it’s not so much that it’s only pennies on a particular bill, because that all adds up to a growing burden on the citizens,” Bruno said Friday. “But I think it’s a fair thing to ask: whether this is an expenditure you want to make. Do you want the government to collect this revenue to deliver a certain bundle of goods and services? Most people would yes.”
A “mature citizen,” Bruno continued, would have a discussion about what they are — and aren’t — willing to pay for. It’s all about striking the right balance for him.
“There are many different things on the list of community wishes and needs,” Bruno said. “The role of the council has to be to figure out how to balance delivering the services and paying for them as opposed to simply borrowing for them.
“I’m weary of people who all they ever do is complain about their taxes but still want it all. You can’t live like that. If you want it all, we can deliver it all but taxes will be higher.”
Beck said Friday that the food-and-beverage tax will be the “most likely source” for finding revenue to fund unmet needs, but doubled down on her concern that not raising other taxes will leave the council in a similar position as it sets budgets for the next five years.
Beck said she is looking forward to a council goals-setting meeting later in the fall to talk about future needs.
“We need to start planning for those rather than be reactive to those,” Beck said Friday. “We need to make sure we’re staying on top of our infrastructure needs and our community needs.
“In order to address those concerns, we have to find ways to fund them. You can’t fund them without actually paying for them. If those are the concerns people have, then those are the concerns that I will continue to bring to council chambers.”
Another proposal on the table is raising building permit fees. If such was approved, council member Angie Brix said she would want the money to go toward paying for a new staff member at the city so the process can be faster for developers leading the boom in construction across Champaign.
“If it’s not something that is going to directly benefit (developers), then raising the fees wouldn’t be worth it,” Brix said. “By being able to hire someone with an increase of the building permit fee, it would allow us to hire someone specifically to deal with the permits.
“If that makes the process you have to go through quicker, then I think that is a benefit.”