Mayor gives state of city B+

By Sarah Schneider

Increased sales tax, bike path, downtown redevelopment topics in address

Carbondale Mayor Joel Fritzler reiterated his proposal for an increased sales tax in the city at the annual State of the City Address Tuesday.

Fritzler said the city is $200,000 short of projected sales tax revenues, which he attributed to the 900-student enrollment decrease at SIU. Fritzler said the city’s financial department had anticipated a flat enrollment but the decrease meant $11 million less was spent in the region.

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Fritzler proposed a half-percent increase to bring the city’s sales tax to 8.5 percent, the same as neighboring city Marion. At a previous City Council meeting Fritlzer said he preferred raising the sales tax rather than the property tax because more than just Carbondale residents use city services.

The first part of his proposal is to maintain the .25 percent sales tax increase, which is set to expire in 2016 and was used to pay bonds for the construction of Carbondale Community High School.

City staff estimate the tax brings in $800,000 annually, which would be put toward the public safety pension obligations. Fritzler announced Tuesday the city has funded 58 percent of the public safety pensions, which means it is $13.6 million short. While he said the city is doing better than other southern Illinois communities that could potentially go bankrupt because of the pension responsibilities, the city must responsibly address the issue as it is below the recommended 80 percent funding.

The second part of the increased sales tax proposal would be another .25 percent increase to refurbish several community facilities.

Last year, Fritzler proposed an entertainment fee at the State of the City address but realized the fee would not be enough to refurbish the entertainment facilities and the pension issue needed to be addressed instead.

“Carbondale has lost too much of its history in the recent years including the Tuscan Lodge and the Opera House buildings and even buildings that stood on this ground where the Civic Center is now,” he said. “Rather than spend funds on building any new proposed facilities that would then require a constant source of funding to maintain them, we need to be prudent and restore our existing facilities and resources before Mother Nature takes them back.”

Fritzler said the Varsity Center would be refurbished with the tax revenue as well as the Amtrak station, the Buckminister Fuller Dome and the bike path off Walnut and College.

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“(The bike path) was built in the 1970s and if you haven’t been on it … it needs a lot of help,” he said. “It was a great asset to the town at one point and deserves saving.”

While the city did not have a large retailer to announce at the annual state of the city address, both Fritzler and Carbondale City Manager Kevin Baity highlighted several small businesses that have come to the city in the last year.

“The retail world is still rebounding from the 2008-2009 recession and we the consumers are still very hesitant about spending our hard earned dollars and pledging our confidence in our economy,” he said.

Because of the budget shortfall, Baity said the city has made internal changes to increase efficiencies.

“City staff have reviewed operations and have made changes that will yield long term changes,” he said.

Baity said the city will soon use a procurement card system, a company charge account, to streamline purchases and decrease the amount of paperwork to pay bills.

The city will also purchase a hybrid vehicle by the end of the year; in addition to the flex fuel vehicles the city owns, to save on fuel costs.

Sean Henry, the city’s public works director, gave an update on several city projects including replacing 11,000 square feet of city sidewalks and replacing water tanks on the corner of Wall and Grand Streets.

Henry said the city hopes to have a dedication of the new fire department, another large project for the Public Works Department, on Glenview Drive in early January.

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