City Council gives preliminary approval to increased tax levy

State Representative-Elect Katie Stewart addresses the O'Fallon City Council during the public comment portion of Monday night's meeting. Stewart attended the meeting to introduce herself and tell the city leaders she wishes to help them in any way she can. Stewart became the newly elected State Representative to the 112th Legislative District after defeating incumbent Dwight Kay in the November election. (O'Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

State Representative-Elect Katie Stewart addresses the O’Fallon City Council during the public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting. Stewart attended the meeting to introduce herself and tell the city leaders she wishes to help them in any way she can. Stewart became the newly elected State Representative to the 112th Legislative District after defeating incumbent Dwight Kay in the November election. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

O’FALLON – Aldermen voted to give preliminary approval to a 4.93 percent increase to the city’s tax levy at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

The majority of the money raised with the levy increase will be used to fund the city library and fire department. Of the $255,000 to be generated, 91.7 percent, or $181,591, will be directed towards the library to be used for general obligations and to pay for social security and IMRF for its employees. In the past, the city paid for the library employee’s social security and IMRF under the city’s levy. The money to be used by the fire department, which totals nearly $65,000, will be used for possible personnel changes and IMRF changes.

The new levy will mean a property tax increase for O’Fallon residents. A home valued at $150,000 will see an increase of around $22 per year, while a home valued at $200,000 will see an increase of just over $29 per year, and a home valued at $250,000 will experience an increase of around $37 per year.

Dennis Grimmer, president of the Library Board of Trustees, attended the meeting and presented information as to why the library is requesting the levy increase.

“We checked out 250,000 items from the library this past year. We had over 150,000 cover through the door and we had nearly 8,000 children attend library programs. We do a lot and we serve this community. We get by on a pretty tight budget. It was 1984 when we last asked for an increase to our levy increase,” said Grimmer.

“We just completed some pretty extensive renovations to the library. We didn’t come and ask [the City Council] for money. We didn’t come and ask the taxpayers for money. For 30 years we’ve been putting a little bit of money aside. I know that sounds hard to believe, but we saved around $1.4 million and we spent $1.2 million to renovate the library. We’ve made the facility much more useable and much more user friendly,”

Grimmer said the library plants replace old HVAC units next year and expand the staff to accommodate the increased number of patrons the library has experienced.

Aldermen Herb Roach and Robert Kueker voted against the levy increase. They both expressed concern about raising taxes so soon after the council approved an increase to the hotel/motel tax.

“I am still concerned about raising taxes. My question is have we considered all other alternatives, such as reducing expenses or transferring some intended income to an area we may consider more important than its current use,” Kueker said.

“Two weeks ago before we voted on the hotel/motel tax increase if we should look at the city’s other needs and figure out a way to address those needs as well. But to come back now, after passing that, and ask for a 4.9 percent increase – last year’s was the highest increase and now we’ve topped that one – I can’t support that kind of an increase,” said Roach.

Mayor Gary Graham challenged the aldermen, asking where they would recommend cutting the city budget and what .

“A year ago, we turned it over to the council and asked for your ideas for reductions. I’ve not gotten one memo or idea. I haven’t received anything from you [indicating Alderman Roach] or you [indicating Alderman Kueker] because I guess its too complicated. I don’t know what the problem is,” said Graham.

Kueker said he would need access to current financial information in order to really analyze the city’s budget and determine areas that could be trimmed. He did say he would support using some hotel/motel tax revenue to fund the library instead of raising property taxes.

“We’ve mentioned hotel/motel tax. I think it’s important to mention that is money raised by people coming to the city of O’Fallon. That’s not being paid by the residents. Traditionally, we’ve used hotel/motel tax revenue for tourism related activities. Destination O’Fallon is a tourism vehicle and it will be funded without passing that responsibility onto the residents,” said Alderman David Cozad.

The proposed tax levy was passed on first reading and will be presented again for a second reading at the Monday, December 19, meeting.

In other business…

• The council approved three resolutions authorizing the Mayor to enter into agreements pertaining to the third phase of the Milburn School Road project. According to city documents, the project to improve Milburn School Road beginning at approximately 2,675 feet east of Old Collinsville Road and terminating approximately 490 feet west of Merriam Parkway, is approaching. IDOT requires paperwork from the city showing complete support of the federally sponsored project, even though a grant has been obtained for roughly 75 percent of the construction cost. In the case of the Milburn School Road project, the total construction cost is estimated at $1.23 million, with the city’s share estimated to be $530,500.

• The council also passed the final plat of the Four Points Center, the development where the Metro Rec Plex is being built at the intersection of Highway 50 and Scott-Troy Road, on first reading. The plat will be voted on once more at the December 19 meeting.