Ford County considering sales-tax increase

PAXTON — The Ford County Board will consider Monday night placing a question on November’s election ballot asking if voters support the creation of a quarter-cent sales tax in the county to raise funds for public-safety purposes.

With two members absent, the board’s finance committee voted 4-0 Thursday morning to advance the proposal to the full 12-member board.

Committee Chairman Chase McCall of Gibson City said the referendum that would appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot is only advisory, and whether the county ends up moving forward with the sales-tax increase hinges on the support of Ford County voters.

“This referendum is exploratory,” McCall said. “This is just to kind of gauge the temperature of Ford County.”

The quarter-cent sales tax would bring in an additional $220,000 per year in revenue, McCall said, based on his and County Clerk & Recorder Amy Frederick’s calculations.

“And given that the economy’s booming right now — people are buying — it may be even more than that,” McCall said.

The additional revenue would be used to cover public-safety expenses, meaning it would go to the sheriff’s office. McCall noted that the sheriff’s office accounts for about two-thirds of the county’s budget.

The proposed sales tax would increase Ford County’s sales-tax rate from 6 1/4 percent to 6 1/2, McCall said. Currently, the county receives a quarter percent of the overall sales tax, with 1 percent going to municipalities and 5 percent going to the state, said committee member Bob Lindgren of rural Loda.

“With the quarter-cent sales-tax increase, our county’s sales tax would still be lower than all the surrounding counties’,” McCall noted.

The specific types of sales to which the proposed sales tax would apply has not been determined, McCall said. McCall noted, however, that the public would be given opportunities to learn such information if the county moves forward with the proposal following the election.

“What would happen is if we were going to enact a sales-tax increase, we would basically draft a study to say, ‘This is what it’s going to look like; this is what’s going to be taxed; this is what’s not going to be taxed,’” McCall said, “and that would be explained in an open forum after the election.”

The idea of raising the sales tax has been discussed “for a while” as a way to bring in revenue to cash-strapped Ford County, McCall said. One factor that has prompted the county board to reconsider the idea now, McCall said, is the growing uncertainty of more wind farms coming to the county.

The county board’s zoning committee recently recommended increasing setbacks for wind turbines, which, if approved by the full board, would restrict the number of turbines built in the county and could even cause some developers to build elsewhere.

The county is hoping more wind farms can help bring in some needed property-tax revenue to the county, but whether more come to the county remains to be seen.

“Given what happened at the zoning board meeting (on Aug. 7), I’m not quite sure if they’re going to build here in Ford County, so we need to find other sources of revenue,” McCall said.

McCall had originally proposed putting a different advisory question on the Nov. 6 ballot — one that asks whether voters support the state Legislature enacting a 1 percent property-tax levy statewide to pay for Illinois’ pension obligations. A proposed resolution to put that question on the ballot was presented to the finance committee Thursday.

However, McCall said that after speaking about the proposal with the county board’s chairman, Randy Berger of Gibson City, he decided that question might not be well-received by voters in Ford County — specifically those residents who were upset by the inappropriate reassessment of their properties earlier this year.

“After what happened to us this year for property taxes, we thought that it probably wouldn’t be the best idea to put forward (the property-tax question on the ballot) and kind of stir the pot again,” McCall said.

As a result, McCall asked the finance committee to change the proposed resolution Thursday to reflect the possibility of a sales-tax increase, rather than a property-tax hike.

The county board is expected to vote on the resolution during its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13, in the board room in the basement of the Ford County Sheriff’s Office, 235 N. American St., Paxton. The meeting is open to the public.

Voting Thursday to recommend the full board approve the resolution were McCall, Berger, Lindgren and Randy Ferguson of Gibson City. Absent were finance committee members Tim Nuss of Roberts and Gene May of Paxton.

In 2016, voters in neighboring Iroquois County approved an advisory question for a quarter-cent sales-tax increase for public safety purposes, which the county board later enacted to bring Iroquois County’s sales-tax rate to 6.5 percent. The quarter-cent increase — which does not apply to the sale of unprepared food, titled vehicles and prescription medication — has been bringing in about $1,000 per day in additional revenue, Lindgren said he was told by an Iroquois County official.

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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