QUINCY — Minutes after approving the Quincy Next Strategic Plan to help shape a better future for the community, City Council members rejected a pair of possible tax hikes that could have helped solve the city’s ongoing budget shortfall.
“We’ve had one common commitment: To ensure a bright future for our community,” former Mayor Chuck Scholz said of the strategic plan before Monday’s vote.
Maggie Strong, the local consultant working on the strategic plan, said supporters of the plan were not asking for funds at this time.
“There is a mix of short-, mid- and long-term strategies included in the plan, and the plan’s goals will be achieved over time through partnerships between the public and private sectors. The strategic plan is our road map,” Strong said.
Matt Wetli, a principal with Development Strategies of St. Louis, said during a public hearing in November that it could cost $100 million to pursue all of the plan’s recommendations. But Wetli said the work and the investments could be accomplished over 15 to 20 years and “does not all have to be public money.”
Alderman Tom Ernst, R-3, asked that the plan be adopted after a single reading, and the council voted 13-0 for the 137-page document. Ordinances usually receive three readings and some aldermen expressed surprise, but voted for the plan anyway.
The next two votes of the evening meant that the council would not hear even a first reading of a 2 percent food and beverage tax hike or a 1.75 percent increase in the city’s home rule sales tax. By voice vote, aldermen rejected the ordinances.
Mayor Kyle Moore later told reporters they need to ask council members what their plan is for balancing the budget that takes effect May 1.
“We’ve had discussions since November that our revenues are going to be short this year and next year, and town halls and budget presentations,” Moore said.
Moore said he expects the city budget will be $1.8 million or more short on revenues for the coming year. He had suggested that aldermen consider the food and purchase tax, which would have brought in $1.5 million or the home rule sales tax which could have brought in $1.3 million.
After those two ordinances were rejected before a first reading, Alderman Paul Havermale, R-3, asked that Moore bring information about cuts to city services that could be made.
“If we charge for yard waste we might get $400,000. And if we charge more for garbage and recycling maybe $500,000. That’s not going to plug this $1.8 million or $1.9 million hole,” Moore said after the meeting.
He believes the council is more likely to spend down reserves as it has done in recent years. Moore warned that reserves are very low and could be needed if there’s a natural disaster or another unexpected funding bombshell from the state.
Moore said sales tax collections have been falling in recent years as more people buy items online and no taxes from those sales are sent to the city.
Sales tax and home rule sales tax collections for December were reported on City Council agendas Monday. Revenues were off more than $134,000 from December 2016 figures.
Aldermen will hold a meeting of the whole starting at 6 p.m. next Monday to hear about spending cuts and the elimination of services.
Havermale said more discussion is needed on budget options.
“We’ve done a very good job of scaring the public, but not a very good job of informing the public,” Havermale said.
Gabe McClean, who manages the Abby restaurant, had urged aldermen not to approve the food and beverage tax. He said the extra 2 percent charge would put diners in “a sour mood” and might make them give servers a smaller tip or not come back to the restaurant.
McClean said he would rather see the 1.75 percent home rule sales tax increase.
In other action, aldermen approved more than $44,000 in purchases for the Utilities Department and more than $8,000 in purchases for the Quincy Police Department.