By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON — —
The countdown to the top four local stories of 2012 comes down to taxes, elections, county issues and hope.
Coming in at the fourth top story is the Home Rule Referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. The question was filed by Steven Casper, who collected more than 1,000 signatures to put the question to voters: “Should the people of Mt. Vernon, IL return the power to raise local taxes only by a vote from the people approving said tax, stopping the City Council from raising taxes through their sole power of Home Rule without your vote? If so vote Yes to Revoke Home Rule powers from the City of Mt. Vernon, in the County of Jefferson, State of Illinois, 62864.”
Casper said he placed the issue on the ballot after the city raised sales taxes by half a cent in 2011, and raised four sales taxes the year before.
As the referendum was worded, a no vote meant Home Rule would stay in place, but a yes vote would be to abolish Home Rule. An active Keep Home Rule Vote No Committee was formed and its chairman was Donte Moore.
On Nov. 6, the Home Rule referendum to rescind the Home Rule form of government was defeated with a vote of 2,455 to 3,214.
“I’m so glad to see the people of Mt. Vernon see that Home Rule is essential to keep the growth of Mt. Vernon going,” Moore said after the vote was taken.
Entering into the top three stories of the year, number three is the Mt. Vernon Township High School buying property for its new campus and sticker shock experienced by taxpayers when the school board raised property taxes a year earlier than expected.
In April the school announced it had purchased 82 acres on Wells Bypass to construct the new school. The property, located on the southwest corner of the intersection of Wells Bypass and Ambassador Lane was purchased for $1.2 million from Ermajean Weir and Janell Bayer.
“The cost is well within our budget for land acquisition in our original estimates,” MVTHS Superintendent Dr. Mike Smith said. “The next step is to have a series of phases of testing completed — geological and environmental tests that are required.”
Taxpayers were expecting to see an increase in property taxes due to the school referendum — but not until 2013. Many were shocked to see the increases on the 2012 bill.
Smith had told attendees of a Vote Yes for MVTHS rally in March 2011 the cost to taxpayers would present in property taxes from 2013 to 2042 and amount to about 28 cents per family per day. However, Jefferson County Treasurer Dan Knox said the MVTHS district levied $1.5 million in funds on bonds for the new school in 2011 — payable in 2012. Knox said he fielded numerous calls from property owners, some of which said they were paying more than the $100 per $100,000 assessed valuation that was proposed during the campaign for the new school referendum.
Smith said the tax hike was necessary in order to purchase the new school property.
“In order to qualify for the state grant necessary for the construction, the school must present evidence that it has secured a suitable site by Sept. 14, 2012,” Smith said. “The school had no funds to purchase the land for the new site without taxpayer bond money. As a result there was no choice but to issue $1.5 million of bond money this year to accomplish the purchase of the land and complete testing, analysis, etc.”
The second top story in 2012 has happened recently — the loss of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at the Jefferson County Justice Center.
The news that ICE was pulling its detainees from the Justice Center came a week into the county’s new fiscal year, forcing the county board to re-open the new budget and try to account for an estimated $3.5 million shortfall.
ICE pulled the detainees after concerns with deficiencies in medical staffing were expressed. The county still has a contract with ICE, but will have to bring the facility up to 2008 standards and provide medical care for detainees based on ICE standards. The county is viewing the situation as temporary, but the loss of revenue has prompted the county and office holders to send out layoff notices to unions in an effort to trim the lost funds from the county budget.
The top story for 2012 is one of hope and a community coming together to care for those less fortunate.
New Life Family Shelter, operated by Lifeboat Alliance completed its first day of operation on Oct. 1. The opening came after members of the community came together to renovate and find a place for those who are homeless.
The project to transform an empty nursing home into a vibrant homeless shelter for families, women and men was one with unbridled support from the start. In April, an anonymous donor pledged $100,000 to the Lifeboat alliance if it could raise funds to match the pledge. That pledge was honored after the community raised the $100,000 match, and the shelter received its name — New Life Family Shelter.
The name was chosen by the anonymous donor from 75 possibilities submitted by the community. Names were sought from churches and youth groups in the community.
The shelter is now open and seeing its first families.