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Aldermen question some tax hikes

Some aldermen Monday questioned the effectiveness of a proposed new registration and inspection program for rental apartments.

They also asked staff for more information about whether license fees should be required for home-based businesses.

And they rejected a plan to charge $1.50 per bag for disposal of yard waste, a measure designed to raise $200,000 in new revenue, but one that several aldermen said would lead to more problems than it was worth.

But most other elements of a tax increase package designed to help resolved a budget crisis caused by under-funded public safety pensions sailed through introduction at the City Council meeting en route to expected final approval later this month.

The aldermen dismissed complaints from local hotel and restaurant owners that adding a 1 percent food and non-alcoholic beverage tax would cause them to lose banquet business to other communities. That tax hike would raise $849,000 — assuming the restaurateurs’ fears of lost business prove unfounded.

They also voted to:

  • Raise the annual vehicle sticker fee from $60 to $75 for cars and from $90 to $105 for light trucks to raise an extra $495,000.
  • Raise the annual fee for residential parking stickers from $10 to $15 to raise an extra $35,000.
  • Raise the tax on gasoline from two cents to three cents per gallon to raise $137,000.
  • Double the annual license fee for retail tobacco shops from $250 to $500 to raise an extra $12,000.
  • Raise various license fees for food service establishments and food delivery vehicles.
  • Establish a $2.50 per month fee for having a second garbage cart to raise $100,000.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said he doesn’t believe staff assurances that the new process for revoking rental licenses envisioned by the ordinance would actually speed the resolution of such problems.

"You’ll still have to go through the courts," Bernstein said.

He also voiced doubts about whether the courts would readily accept revocation decisions made by the head of the Community Development Department, who would be responsible for administrative decisions under the ordinance — since that person is also the boss of the inspectors who would be bringing the complaints.

Bernstein suggested that the city should make more aggressive efforts to foreclose on liens placed against properties of problem landlords who fail to pay fines assessed against them.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the ordinance was needed because it would give the city "a way to interrupt the income stream of bad landlords and remove bad tenants."

She said the current process, in which cases are heard by lawyers hired by the city to serve as administrative adjudicators hasn’t worked, since cases are often dismissed or only token fines are imposed.

Alderman Anjena Hansen, 9th Ward, said she tended to agree with Bernstein that the enforcement strategy in the ordinance was flawed.

She also said the proposed $40 per unit fee would hit small landlords, and their tenants, hard; a point also raised by several landlords and tenants who addressed the Planning and Development Committee about the issue.

As proposed, the program is designed to raise $525,000 a year, which city officials say would cover its cost of operation.

None of the aldermen said they were opposed to the general concept of requiring landlords to register with the city.

They ended up voting to send the measure back to committee for further review.

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