I’m still miffed about this new tax

So, I previously ranted about the new tax on the citizens and shoppers of Mount Vernon. In it I made clear that the comparisons to other cities were worthless. Each of the cities mentioned has other influences which greatly affect their financial standing and tax base. This means we now have a higher tax rate than the only other comparable city in my opinion – Effingham. Also, this new tax will be used (I believe) to pay for our new community pool in addition to other QOL items. I oppose this model of the new pool, but that is not my gripe at this time.

I am quite perturbed that the city council would pass a tax increase at a special meeting rather than at a regular council meeting where the public expects such matters to be discussed. To be fair the meeting was supposedly announced and satisfied the Open Meetings Act requirements – I have not verified this and thus must say ‘supposedly’. What is unfair in my opinion is that a tax increase was passed at a special meeting held (as I understand it  clarified with the update below) during the day when most citizens are at work trying to support their families. According to an email reply from Councilman Wood:

First, there is nothing sneaky about this. The ordinance had to be in Springfield by about April 1.

Because of this, we started the discussion with extensive remarks at a workshop. We discussed the time schedule openly and completely. We could not do this at the first regular meeting for several reasons. We wanted the industrial and residential studies for our review before making a final decision on the tax. The City Manager was out of town and I was recovering from neck surgery on the previous Friday.”

So, there may have been legitimate reasons in their minds for conducting such an important discussion at a meeting that the public may have had difficulty attending – fine. If this tax was so important to get to Springfield by April 1 then why wasn’t discussion or first reading held until a few short weeks before that? In my opinion this was poorly planned, well planned, or perhaps just a series of unfortunate events leading to a rush that deprived the citizens of the ability to speak out against this new tax at a regular meeting.

Councilman Wood went on to state that I am poorly informed and I should attend the Council meetings and workshops. Attending daytime workshops and special meetings is well and grand when you make your own hours and/or are retired. Unfortunately most of the population is afforded neither of these luxuries. I believe a majority of the citizens depend upon our Council to inform us of important upcoming events or votes because we work so that we can make money to pay for new taxes.

No matter what, I feel slighted. The normal progression for acts as I have seen in the past is a first reading, second reading, and then voting. There are times that lesser matters have the rules waived and votes are taken after a first reading, but this is a new tax. This is not rezoning a property from B-1 to B-2. This tax will affect everyone in Mount Vernon and surrounding communities until the end of time as I don’t believe there was a sunset included.

Here is an excerpt from the minutes of the March 5, 2012 Council minutes (underlining by me for emphasis):

Stephen Casper stepped forward and stated that he feels the structure of the City Council meetings do not allow the audience to express their concerns adequately. He feels the audience should be given time at the beginning of the meeting to speak instead of at the end when Council has already voted on an issue. He asked that Council would consider having the audience heard prior to any votes. Mayor Chesley stated that on several occasions Council has workshops and invited people to come to express their concerns and they have. He stated that those who do not get the newspaper are unaware of the workshops. Mayor Chesley stated that there is a certain amount of responsibility as a citizen to be aware of what is going on within the community.

I agree we have responsibility to be aware of what is going on in the community. Unfortunately we depend upon our civic leaders and elected officials to help us stay informed about what is going on in the community. People have families, jobs, social activities, and other matters to attend to in their daily lives. City Council members even miss meetings (as evidenced by Councilman Wood in his explanation above) from time to time and these are offices for which they were specifically elected.

Regarding the rumor that the city will be donating money or helping District 201 financially, Councilman Wood clarified that matter with this excerpt from his email to me:

As for the high school, please understand that we made a commitment very  early on to build the infrastructure to the school. We never made any decision to pay for any part of the school that exists on the school property. If such a decision were made it would be a public one that would be open to examination, comment, and criticism.”

So there you go. If the city decides to give any money to District 201 then it will be discussed at meetings which are subject to public input. Let’s just hope the discussion is at a regular meeting a majority of the public can attend. The infrastructure being built up to the school makes perfect sense as that is something that would be done for most any business in a similar manner.

About the pool – I did not attend those planning meetings nor did I comment on the now adopted plan. My bad. I still have the right to oppose it and bitch about it AND the tax that is going to fund it.

There you have it. My complaints, the reply/retort from Mr. Wood, and my opinions. This has been me complaining about our local government and some of their actions I don’t approve of lately. Maybe I’ll go to every meeting from now on and speak up during the public feedback portion. I’d hate to be accused of being ‘uninformed’ or of not taking ‘responsibility as a citizen to be aware of what is going on within the community.’

 

UPDATE:

Here is a link to the minutes of the Special Meeting (workshop) that was held during the day when most people are typically at work that you were supposed to attend. Perhaps I should say that I was expected to attend. I wonder if they’d let me Skype in from work.