Residents, Shoppers Respond to Sales Tax Increase

Residents, Shoppers Respond to Sales Tax Increase
By: Carly O'Keefe
CARBONDALE, Ill. - The Carbondale City Council voted 4-3 to increase the city's sales tax one half percent.  That raises the tax on general merchandise from 7.25 percent to 7.75 percent.  Some folks don't think that was such a great idea.
"It's ridiculous, people are going to go other places to shop.  You've got your Super Wal-Mart in Marion, if you can buy something there for 6.5 percent (tax), why come here for 8 (percent)? It's going to drive business out of Carbondale," said Carbondale Resident Rachel Jaber.
The tax increase will generate approximately $2.3 million a year.  Of those proceeds, $6.2 million will be used to build a new public safety center that will house the police, fire and emergency management services.  A new fire house on the west side will take $1.25 million to construct.  Open space development including sidewalks, green space and bike paths will use $500,000.
The more controversial portion of the approved tax increase involves donating $1 million per year to Southern Illinois University for the Saluki Way project to the tune of $20 million over 20 years.  Some Carbondale residents and shoppers disagree with giving city tax dollars to a state-funded university.
"I'm an alumni, but the Saluki Way should be funded by the university, not the city of Carbondale," said Carbondale shopper Susan Nawojski-Toler.
Others disagree with the way the tax increase was approved by the city council, without much input from residents.
"We wanted a referendum, so the people of Carbondale could decide.  To take city money and give it to a state university is unprecedented.  It seems like this is something we should have hashed out and discussed," said Arbor District Treasurer Jane Adams.
The reaction to the new tax increase isn't all bad. Some see the value in helping SIU get the Saluki Way off the ground.
"We've got a college out here that does a lot for southern Illinois, without it we're nothing but a spot on the map," said Blake Beckmann. " I think it's a good investment."
Carbondale City Manager Jeff Doherty says the sales tax increase is a solid plan that will stabilize city government revenues and provide the new facilities that are needed.
He also says the excess tax revenue from the increase will go toward providing city services at the current level over the next two decades.