Response to Mayor McCarty’s Comments on Home Rule:
In a public Facebook post, Mayor John McCarty stated that prior to Home Rule, the City was already collecting a Hotel/Motel tax, and was restricted in its use. It could only be used to promote tourism. With the approval of Home Rule, an additional 2% tax was levied on guests who visit Nauvoo. What was not said, was that due to the arrangement made with the Hotel/Motel Tax Board, 50% of these funds go to the Tourism Office.
This became particularly clear in discussions related to the Utility Tax (more on that in a moment) last year. When alternate suggestions were made for increasing City revenues, by increasing the Hotel/Motel tax base, the comment made by the Mayor was that “increasing Hotel/Motel Taxes doesn’t help the city. Most of that money goes to the tourism office.”
Additional context is provided in the statement made by Bob Soland, Alderman (and Chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committees) at the time Home Rule was approved. He indicated that “they formed a committee of 3 citizens to sell the Home Rule to the community. These 3 citizens had public meetings, did all of the research, placed the issue on a ballot, and successfully sold Home Rule to the community. The main basis was to generate income for the police department and roads due to the increased costs based on tourism. They made a promise to the community that if Home Rule was granted, that other than the 2% increase in hotel/motel tax, which was being done, again, to raise money for the police department and the roads predominantly used for tourism, no other taxes would be imposed without referendum.” It might be helpful to know that Mayor John McCarty was a City Alderman at the time.
In spite of this promise, made by the city officials seeking to pass home rule, additional taxes have been passed, without referendum. When asked, in a City Council Meeting, why a referendum was not being used to gain approval for the Utility Tax last year, the Mayor stated “we couldn’t get anyone to vote for it.” So, the council voted, unanimously (as is true the majority of the time), to implement this tax without referendum, even though there was an upcoming election where the electric utility aggregation measure would be placed on the ballot via referendum.
In this same communication, the Mayor once again focused his attention on the LDS Church, and the fact that the decision was made to remove their properties from the tax rolls. First, it was not the County and State that allowed these properties to be removed from the Tax rolls. It was the Constitution. No churches in Nauvoo pay property tax on their property. There is no mention in his communication about the Catholic Church, the Community of Christ Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, or any other faith. In those cases, the properties never were on the tax rolls to begin with. They in fact own much less property in Nauvoo (although that is not true nation-wide), but it is then a matter of degree, not principle.
The Payment in Lieu of Tax (PILOT) payment is used throughout the country, and the State of Illinois places restrictions on its use, as John McCarty stated. What he did not say, however, is that the State also restricts discussions of continuation of PILOT programs until the last year of the remaining agreement, and there is no reason to believe (based on past performance, or its use in other locations by the LDS Church), that the LDS Church would discontinue the program outright. Other than the fact that the Utility Tax that was implemented was structured specifically to impact the customers like the LDS Church more significantly. Why would the LDS Church choose to pay this higher tax, and still continue to make PILOT payments? The attack by tax seems very ill-advised.
When pressed in a City Council meeting last year, relating to the Utility Tax, the Mayor finally acquiesced that the real issue was the insecurity about the status of a budget from the State of Illinois, and the payments that could be coming from the State. In all likelihood, a valid concern. So, the suggestion was made to await this decision, and then tax the citizens if no other solution could be found. This suggestion was dismissed, because “we’ve already spent too much time talking about this.” No time to keep the promise to the citizens about using a referendum.
And. what will happen if the LDS Church does renew the PILOT agreement in a couple of years, and the State of Illinois does meet its commitments, will the citizens receive a refund of the taxes collected?
The most ominous statement made by the mayor in relation to this issue came just Tuesday, February 28, 2017. In it, he said “We are stair stepping the percent of the tax over a 2 year period to help residents and business owners adjust.” In essence, raise the heat slowly, and they won’t notice they’re being cooked.