Rockford Aldermen approve a new 2018 budget, that includes ways to generate revenue for the city. One of the measures is a utility tax on natural gas and electricity. Residents could see the Utility Tax on their gas and electric bills within the next 90 days. It’s a move that many Alderman said they didn’t want to approve, but felt as if they had to.
“Reluctantly, I will voting for the utility tax,” said Ald. Tim Durkee (R-1st). Reluctant votes were the theme at Monday night’s City Council meeting. “Nobody wants to vote ‘yes’ on a utility tax here,” said Ald. Kevin Frost (R-4th).
“I didn’t do over 70 meetings because I thought a utility tax was good,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara. ” It’s the last thing I wanted to do.” Nine aldermen voting in favor of the 5% Utility Tax, while just three, like Alderman Venita Hervery (D-5th) voted against it. “I will not be supporting the utility tax, that’s been an underlying theme for a long time,” said Hervey. “That’s a promise I’m not going to break.”
For residents, the utility tax will mean an extra 5-dollars on a 100- dollar electric bill. Gas bills will also go up.
“It’s a much more difficult path for citizens that have to live in our community, that would turn on their lights or put on their heat,” said McNamara. The Mayor adds with or without Home Rule, Rockford needs money. Finance Committee Chairman John Beck (R-12th) says the Rockford doesn’t have many other options. “I was really hopefully we would have had Home Rule pass,” said Ald. Beck. “That would have given us access to revenue sources that would have been widely dispersed and wouldn’t have been as onerous on low-income folks or small business.”
Once the city starts collecting the tax, it can generate about $4 million in revenue in it’s first year, which helps with the Rockford’s pension costs for police and fire. Five years ago, pension costs were just under 10 million, and this year they’ve increased to over 17 million. “It continues to rise at a dramatic pace, at a pace that our revenue can’t keep up with,” said McNamara. “At this point, either cut police officers or find new revenue source, which we don’t have many options, outside of the utility tax.”
The budget also includes, a $400,000 reduction in the property tax lev ,and investments in technology for public safety.