Mt. Vernon Register-News

December 27, 2013

Schools, taxes make Top 10

The Register-News

---- — Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series counting down the top 10 local stories from 2013.

MT. VERNON — The top 10 local stories of 2013 have been a reflection of the community highs and lows.

Each year, the Register-News editorial staff reflect on the stories which made top headlines for the year, and ranks the top 10, sharing them with our readers.

The stories coming in the 10th through 7th spots were the EAA VentureCup Race and first balloon glow; the dress code enforced at the Jefferson County Courthouse; the closing of Belle Rive Attendance Center and demolition of Horace Mann School; and the Market Days at the former armory.

The county makes the top story list again with the Jefferson County Courthouse renovations.

In February, the county board voted for the company M360 to begin a courthouse renovation feasibility study. In July, the company reported the costs for completion of Phase I and Phase II projects was at $7.62 million, with Phase I at $4.66 million. With a 12-1 vote, the board accepted the recommendation of the Public Safety Committee to allow M360 to address "safety concerns" at the courthouse as its top priority.

How to fund the renovations became a major issue, with some board members wanting to use Public Safety Tax receipts — or an increase in the tax — to pay for the renovations. Then the idea of property tax increases was also proposed.

In response to public backlash to diverting Public Safety Tax receipts and raising property taxes, County Board Chairman Robert White appointed a special committee to sell the public on a possible sales tax increase to pay for the renovations. A series of town hall meetings were scheduled by the committee to reach out to the public.

By November, committee chairman Randy Edwards said, "People at the town hall meetings were reluctant to put (a referendum on the ballot) on a real estate tax, and a lot of them recognized the need (for renovations), but I believe the courthouse needs to be maintained by law."

At December's meeting on Monday, the board approved a resolution to place a referendum on the March 2014 primary ballot. The question is whether voters will impose an increase on its local sales tax by one quarter of one percent. This would mean that a consumer would pay an additional 25 cents in sales tax for every $100 of tangible personal property bought at retail.

The story coming in the fifth place is a cheer for area athletes, Mt. Vernon Rams Baseball team came in at fourth in the state.

The baseball Rams rolled through their season, with the postseason journey starting with the team rolling past Herrin in the opening round, then knocking off Centralia in the regional final. The Effingham sectional went to the Rams, and Mt. Vernon topped Triad in the sectional final. The Rams then faced Bloomington in the super sectional, and moved into the final four with a 6-1 win. The team entered the state finals with the school's record — 31-8-1.

The Rams took on Joliet Catholic, and took a 4-0 loss in the semifinal game. The team played Grayslake Central in the 3A third place game, coming in fourth place after a 1-0 loss. The final season record — 31-10-1. The team was presented with a fourth-place trophy and each player received a medal.

The story of 2013 in fourth place is the Interstates 57/64 construction — and finally opening.

Construction on the interstate began north of the two Mt. Vernon exits, and extended to the split between Interstate 57 and Interstate 64. After construction ended in late November, there are six lanes of highway through Mt. Vernon and two interchanges which are open.

However, the construction took over two years, and loss of tourism and retail sales from those stopping in the King City took a toll — not to mention the headaches experienced by motorists fighting backups to get through the construction zone.

Sales taxes were affected, with city leaders saying the decrease was due to fewer stops in the city.

"Much of our sales tax comes from people who drive through the community," City Manager Ron Neibert said in March. "They think, 'let's just get through the construction and get to the next place before we stop.'"

City Finance Director Merle Hollmann said he did not expect the downturn to continue after the interstate construction was completed — which happened last month. Sales tax receipts, as well as diesel tax receipts have not been reported yet.