Illinois News

The District up for renewal at Quincy City Council

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 2, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Dec. 2, 2017 11:35 pm

QUINCY -- John Mast can't imagine what downtown Quincy would look like if the District and its predecessors had not been working for more than 30 years.

"The District has been helping develop this area as a great place to live, to work and to enjoy and we've seen a lot of progress," Mast said.

Mast is president of the District's 18-member board and will be one of the speakers Monday night when the Quincy City Council considers whether to confirm the organization for another 10 years.

Bruce Guthrie, executive director of the District, said a separate ordinance will set the tax rate one year at a time.

"We have to come back to the City Council every year and ask for a levy, just like the public library and every other tax entity," Guthrie said.

This year the District board is proposing an increase in its levy, but offering to give up a $15,000 stipend from the city's budget. In financial terms, the change would result in almost no change for the District's budget. It would give the city relief from a $15,000 line item that has been on the books for years.

On Monday's agenda, the City Council is scheduled to consider renewal of the District before looking at the tax. A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. in City Hall. The council will then meet at 7 p.m.

As a special service area, the District has been legally able to seek up to 35 cents per $100 assessed valuation. However, the tax rate has been 21 cents in recent years. This year the request of 23 cents per $100 assessed valuation would raise revenues next year to $95,000, compared to about $80,000 this year.

For the owner of a $100,000 commercial building, the tax increase would be about $18.

The District is far larger than most central business districts. It includes more than 90 city blocks stretching from the Front to 12th and Broadway to State. More than 600 property owners are automatically members of the District through their property tax payments. More than 500 businesses with more than 8,000 employees are at least partially within the District.

Two years ago the City Council approved only a two-year extension for the group. Bret Austin of Austin Properties Inc., was president of the board at that time and remembers one alderman urging the District to look for ways to "stand on its own." That contributed to this year's option of giving up the city stipend.

"Nobody wants to see taxes going up, but this is somewhat budget neutral. We're making this secondary offer because of the comments about standing on our own and because of the city's budget hole" due to plateauing sales tax collections and lower fund levels from the state, Austin said.

During a Finance Committee meeting last week, officials from the District also offered to start bringing annual updates on the organization's events, accomplishments and goals. They told aldermen they had never been asked for an annual report before and would be happy to comply.

Mast has a personal history with the downtown area. He and his wife bought property at Fourth and Hampshire in 2004 and they lived here and operated Computerland there for several years.

"In 2004 a lot of people were asking why we were moving downtown. I told them we worked with a lot of businesses located downtown and I wanted to get closer to our core clients," Mast said.

Mast has formed other connections downtown. Now he is remodeling several downtown apartments and works at CDS Office Technologies in the Maine Center.

Alderman Jack Holtschlag, D-7, represents the downtown area and thinks the District ought to be confirmed for more than two years at a time.

"Everybody sees what they're doing down there. The money isn't being wasted. Those people do a ton of work and I'm always hearing good things from people downtown," Holtschlag said.

He said some other members of the council have philosophical differences with taxing districts, but Holtschlag expects the renewal will pass.

"I had recommended the 10-year renewal. It doesn't make much sense having to deal with it every year or two," Holtschlag said.

Some critics oppose the idea of funding a business improvement agency with tax dollars.

Austin said the group is doing what nobody else is.

"We're not picking winners and losers. We're trying to make everybody a winner," Austin said.

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