City of Jacksonville Approves Second Reading of Tax Levy, Cannabis Zoning

By Benjamin Cox on December 10, 2019 at 6:10am

The Jacksonville City Council debated the upcoming tax levy increase and the sales of recreational cannabis last night. In a lengthy discussion during the second reading of the city’s tax levy, the council heard public comment to lower the levy. Concerned citizen, Nicole Riley, who has been leading a push to lower the city’s levy and educating citizens about how a city levies taxes recommended that the city dip into it’s 7 month reserves to cut the proposed rate of 2.5% down to 1.25%. She says that the city would still be able to cover its fire and police pensions with 1 month of money from the reserves and still maintain the required 6 months worth of reserves by auditors. Riley also pointed out that the city has increased property taxes by 25% over the last 7 years.

Ward 5 Alderman Steve Warmowski, who had to miss the first reading of the levy due to personal matters, asked for an amended proposal of limiting the city to a 1.9%. “The other governmental units in the area are limited to 1.9%, but since the City of Jacksonville is a Home Rule community, our tax limit is a 5% increase in the amount that we can ask from the county every year. My issue is that since 2012, we have raised the property tax request 25%. At the same time, the actual taxable property in the city has only gone up 5%. If you also look at the population since 2012, our population has gone down. We keep asking fewer people to pay more money. At some point this is going to become a crisis, and I would just like to head that off.”

Warmowski says the only way to head off what he sees as a property tax crisis is to do one of two things: “Either we need to get more serious about bringing more economic development to town and increase our tax base and also find ways to entice more people to move into town; or would need to think about how do we make the city smaller in a smart way instead of being forced to.”

Warmowski’s proposed amendment failed at voice vote 4-5, with Warmowski, Eren White-Williams, Brandon Adams, and Aaron Scott voting for the reduction. The council returned to the original 2.5% increase from the initial levy, which passed 6-3. Aaron Scott was the only voter from the amendment that switched his vote.

The other item on the agenda that brought some discussion was the first reading of an ordinance approving text to amend the Jacksonville Zoning pertaining to adult use cannabis facilities in the city’s limits. Two alderman spoke out against the ordinance, saying they had received negative feedback from their constituents in their ward. Ward 1 Alderman Jeff Hopkins explains his disagreement with allowing the facilities to come to Jacksonville: “The most response about cannabis [sales] in the community is that my constituents don’t want it in the community. That’s the one response I’ve been getting from any of my ward’s constituents. They don’t want it in Jacksonville. They are aware that it is going to be legal. They understand that. I’m going to say that this is hard, because I’ve always been one that said to make it legal and tax it. When I have people communicating with me saying they don’t want it in our community, I have to take that into consideration and that’s why I went with a ‘no’ vote for now. If I hear differently, if I hear more, maybe that will change.”

Lori Large-Oldenettel, Ward 2 Alderwoman, said that she very rarely receives phone calls from citizens in her ward about issues, but she has received similar negative sentiments about adult use cannabis sales. However, despite the two disagreeing with the measure, the first reading of the zoning ordinance passed 6-3 with Oldenettel, Hopkins, and Ward 5 Alderman Don Cook voting against it.

The city council also approved a $28,745 increase in the bid to Prairie State Plumbing to the Wastewater Treatment Plant’s HVAC Rehab project to replace the system’s outdated controls. The boiler project is 82% complete, with the remainder of the project to be completed by the end of January. The council also approved a Bar Screen Rake Repair request for $71,924. The proprietary equipment keeps large amounts of debris out of the city’s sewer system and has been out of commission since January of this year. Vandeventer Engineering in St. Louis is expected to make the repair. The city also approved a change to the zoning of the former White Cottage Cafe property from business to residential, as current owner Mark Stout is expecting to turn the property into a duplex.

The next meeting for the Jacksonville City Council will come in January as the next regularly scheduled meeting time will come during the week of the Christmas holiday.