A million dollar tax hike.
It's a hefty price tag in Rock Island for city officials' pie-eyed naivete. And the almost complete lack of cost-cutting makes the proposed increase tough to swallow.
Rock Island City Council is prepared to vote next week on $117 million 2018 budget and its eye-popping 9 percent tax increase. City Manager Randy Tweet didn't have a lot of good options when drafting the funding proposal. He didn't bury the city under a $15 million bond based on nothing but a handshake agreement with Walmart. Nor did Mayor Mike Thoms.
Both are cleaning up the mess left by their predecessors, including the Walmart fiasco on 11th Street, and a state incapable of reforming its most glaring failing -- a broken public pension.
Yet the sheer size of the year-over-year tax increase in the proposed budget is, at the very least, concerning. Nine percent is a huge hike, especially on a community that's struggling to attract new business. At some point, local taxes become a vicious cycle. A lack of commercial property makes for a weak tax base. Government responds by boosting taxes. There's even less incentive for new investment. And, years later, cities are trying to dig themselves out by abusing tax increment financing or other schemes that siphon cash away from the community at large.
Thing is, the cost-cutting measures in the proposal are meager at best. Slash a few supplies. Delay a few road projects here. Keep dark a handful of vacant positions there.
The budget proposal touts almost no effort to streamline service or better share them with neighboring municipalities. Nor has there been a serious discussion about slashing services. At the very least, city officials should be arguing over deeper cuts when faced with a 9 percent tax hike. The lack of such an argument speaks volumes.
Instead, Rock Island's total spending has consistently increased in recent years. It was $107 million in 2016. It jumped to $110 million this year, featuring a slew of fee increases. And, now, the city is mulling another substantial boost to both spending and taxpayer's burden.
Essentially, Rock Island's budget writers set a number -- without a full-fledged attempt at reducing operational costs -- and adjusted taxes to meet it. Add to that a smattering of new fees and Rock Island residents could find life noticeably more pricey.
A 9 percent price hike should instigate serious debate about smaller departments and reduced services. It should, at the very least, foster debate about where the city can become more efficient.
Instead, the City Council appears determined to foist such a massive increase on its constituents with nary a legitimate public debate.
There's no question that Rock Island is in a tough position, much of which isn't of its own making. Illinois' constitutionally protected pension consumes a ridiculous share of its general fund, money better spent on road work. As a result of the state's pension system, Rock Island's general fund -- from which most services are funded -- has continually represented a smaller portion of overall spending.
Illinois almost never pays its bills on time, including those to local governments. Moline dominates its neighbor on the retail front, meaning Rock Island doesn't enjoy the sales tax windfall that befits its neighbor. And Illinois' general political chaos is the ultimate disincentive to new industrial or commercial investment.
But these conditions were known when Rock Island's elected officials ran for office. None of it was new or unexpected.
From day one, Rock Island officials should have spent their time finding ways to cut costs. But they've consistently opted to come back to taxpayers for more.
More fees. More charges. And now, more taxes.
At some point, enough's enough.