County Board Votes for April Referendum
Boone County Board votes unanimously to ask the voters on April 4, 2017 to increase the existing Public Safety Sales Tax by 1/2 cent to 1 cent. Please click here for more information.
Sales tax increase headed for Boone County ballots in April
FridayPosted Dec 23, 2016 at 12:35 PM Updated Dec 24, 2016 at 12:14 AM
By Susan Vela
BELVIDERE - Boone County voters will decide in April whether to pay more sales taxes to preserve Sheriff Dave Ernest's public safety services.
Almost a month after the board decided to use $1.4 million in public safety tax money - the highest amount ever - to balance its budget, members are looking to increase the sales tax to bolster the sheriff's staff and fix aging facilities.
Board members voted unanimously Wednesday to place a tax question on the April 4 ballot.
It will ask voters to increase its public safety sales tax to 1 percent from 0.5 percent. Groceries, medicine and titled property like cars and farm equipment would be exempt. If approved, Belvidere's sales tax rate would be 8.25 percent, the same as Rockford's.
The tax will generate double the amount of revenue, from $1.4 million a year to $2.8 million - for day-to-day public safety operations in the county courts, jail, street patrolling operations, dispatch center and Public Safety Building. The tax increase would mean shoppers will pay an additional 50 cents for every $100 spent.
Sheriff Dave Ernest said the increase is needed. The department needs the revenue to retain - if not increase - staffing levels and make building repairs.
The county had to pay about $300,000 each of the past two years for overtime costs at the jail, Ernest said. Simultaneously, he has lost seven patrol deputies since 2008 through attrition. He hasn't been able to replace them because of budget concerns. Ernest and his deputies also have moved buckets around the courthouse because of leaky roofs.
"Our buildings are falling apart," he said. "We have ceilings falling down. That's an embarrassment. Clearly, it comes down to finances. I would love to say we don't need this, but I don't think we have any options."
Since 2000, voters have been paying the 0.5 percent sales tax to pay off construction bonds for a $9.3 million jail expansion. Three payments of $585,000 remain due. The last will be paid in December 2018.
If the renewal is approved, the increase could kick into effect within three months. The Illinois Department of Revenue approves the new rate. County officials are hoping the increased revenues will help them address some building repairs and staffing concerns.
"(But) this is going to be a tough sell," Board Chairman Karl Johnson said. "It's going to be a lot of hard work."
County Administrator Ken Terrinoni said board members had few options when finding more money for public safety costs. Along with some board members, he said that a sales tax was a fair way to proceed.
"Everybody pays it whether they live here, work here or (are) just passing through," he said.