[September 04, 2013]This week the voting session of
the Lincoln City Council was on Tuesday due to the Labor Day holiday
on Monday. All eight aldermen were present for the meeting Tuesday
evening as one of the most important topics to be voted on was
whether or not to implement a 4 percent utility tax in Lincoln.
The tax was proposed as part of a plan to finance four specific
projects for the city of Lincoln. Mayor Keith Snyder brought the
plan he referred to as "Rebuilding our foundation" to the council
several weeks ago.
In the plan, the 4 percent utility tax would be
used to make payments for bonds issued to finance new facilities for
the police and fire departments. The proposal left open how this
would be accomplished, with the options being to build something new
for both departments, or create separate facilities for each,
possibly using already existing structures.
Another item on the list was funding of the city’s police and
fire pension plans. The state of Illinois has mandated that
municipalities fund the pensions to at least 90 percent by the year
2040. The city of Lincoln, like many other cities in Illinois, is
not even close to having those pensions fully funded.
The plan also calls for money to be invested in upgrading city
sewers as well as for downtown revitalization projects.
Throughout the discussions in past weeks, some aldermen, such as
Melody Anderson and Tom O’Donohue, have made it clear they supported
the proposal, while others, such as David Wilmert, have made it
clear they did not.
In addition, concerned citizens of Lincoln have also come forward
to express their opinions, again some in favor and some opposed.
Tuesday evening as the moment for the motion approached, Snyder
said that once again there were people in the gallery who wished to
speak about the tax prior to the vote.
First of those was Wanda Lee Rohlfs. Rohlfs has been strongly
opposed to the tax throughout the process. As she took a seat at the
speakers table, she told the council she wanted to thank all of them
for responding to various emails she had sent them.
But, she said she still had questions and concerns. She noted
that the statement had been made that local businesses whose
consumption of electricity and gas is much greater than the average
homeowner will pay the bulk of the tax.
Rohlfs said that when businesses see increases in costs, they
pass those increases along to the consumer. Therefore, she said the
residents of Lincoln will not only pay the tax on their own bills,
they will ultimately pay the tax on the businesses as well.
Rohlfs also questioned some of the language in the ordinance
document. In the document, there are several increments to the
electricity side of the tax. The concept is that for the larger
consumers, the higher their usage, the lower the price, but it will
be graduated, in that a business that would perhaps use 4,000,000
kilowatt-hours would pay the tax at several rates, with each rate
being slightly lower than the previous one as their consumption goes
Rohlfs said some of the explanations looked like they were
duplicate amounts with different rates. She asked that the structure
be clarified. She pointed out specifically one line that said 2
million kwh would be charged at 0.00256, and in the next line it
said the 2 million would be charged at 0.00252.
It was explained that the rate was referring to the first 2
million at 0.00256 and the next 2 million at 0.00252.
Rohlfs also pointed out that she had two copies of the ordinance
received at two different times. She said there were several areas
where the two did not agree. Sue McLaughlin, city administrator,
explained that the first copy was prior to the city finding out they
had the wrong formula for figuring the tax on the natural gas. The
second copy Rohlfs had was the true and accurate one the council
would be voting on.
Rohlfs also pointed out an error in the numbering of the
document, which is divided into "chapters." She was told that would
Finally Rohlfs told the council that they had an obligation to
pass an ordinance that was understandable, and this one wasn’t.
The second person to speak was Officer Matthew Vlahovich of the
Lincoln Police Department. Vlahovich is the president of Fraternal
Order of Police 208 as well as being the pension board president. He
reminded the council that he had written a letter of support for the
utility tax recently.
He said the letter had come as a result of a unanimous vote of
the FOP that the union should support the tax. Vlahovich said the
reason for their support was that the union understood the
importance of the pension program and the need to bring it up to the
recommended level of funding.
He said in addition to this, though, they also fully
supported the proposal of a new police facility. He said such a
facility with adequate space would increase the productivity of the
officers, and that would in the long run lead to cost savings of its
Finally, he said the FOP understands that without this tax there
will be no new revenue for the city that can help with these
projects, and because of all this, on behalf of the Lincoln Police
Department, he was asking that the tax be passed.
When he finished with his statement, Marty Neitzel addressed
Vlahovich, saying there was one point that bothered her. She said
she has always been opposed to this, but the fact is, there are
officers in both the police and the fire departments who do not live
inside the Lincoln city limits. Therefore, they will not be affected
by the tax.
After Vlahovich left the speakers table, Snyder called for the
motion. The motion was made by Anderson and seconded by O’Donohue.
The floor was then opened for discussion.
Kathy Horn asked about the section of the ordinance that said the
utility company would charge a 3 percent remittance fee for issuing
the tax checks to the city. She wondered if that was a charge to the
She was told it was not. Ameren Illinois will deduct the 3
percent from the gross check before it is sent to the city. Horn
then asked for further clarification, saying, "Then this will not be
7 percent to the customer?" She was told it would not.
The last person to speak was Snyder. He said: "I apologize once
again for asking you to take a difficult vote. It seems that is all
we have done the past four years, is take difficult votes. That is a
sign of our times in that we are faced with challenges all around.
The council has made tough decisions in the past four years in a lot
of different areas. We look back at things like budget questions and
labor questions, and I would guess the FOP wasn’t happy with some of
those decisions, but they respect you for those decisions. There are
tough decisions all around, and I think now it is time for us to
make another one."
The city clerk, Susan Gehlbach, was then asked to take the roll
call vote. She began with O’Donohue, who had provided the second,
and worked around the room. The votes went as follows: O’Donohue,
yes; David Wilmert, no; Bruce Carmitchel, yes; Anderson, yes; Horn,
no; Jonie Tibbs, no; Jeff Hoinacki, yes; and Neitzel, no. With the
council split 4-4, it was left to Snyder to deliver the deciding
vote. He voted in favor and the motion passed.
The utility tax is set to take effect Oct. 1.
[By NILA SMITH]
Past related articles
Council heats up over
kilowatts and therms
Utility tax discussions