In a lot of ways, Monday night's City Council vote to hold the line on the 2011 tax levy was as much symbolic as it was an indicator of how much cash you'll have in your wallet next year.
When it comes down to it, the difference between the amount OK'd by the council and the amount previously recommended by staff translates to about $10 a year for the owner of a $300,000 home. For the city itself, it means about $72,000 less to play with in next year's budget.
But for the aldermen who voted on the levy—and for a lot of residents feeling the pinch of a down economy—it meant much more.
"Where I come from, ($72,000) is not a drop in the bucket," said Russell Lefevre, a Keim Circle resident who adressed the council Monday night. "Drip by drip, drop by drop, just like a snowball, property (assessments) go down … and the taxpayer is put in a squeeze."
Charles Street resident Dickson Graff told aldermen that his home value has plummeted but his real estate taxes continue to go up. Graff said he's in the constuction business, and the cumulative effects of tax levy increases from the city, School District and Park District are contributing to his struggles to make ends meet.
"We’re making it work, we’re staying above water," he told aldermen. "We’re asking you guys to do the same."
Aldermen voted 7-2 in the Committtee of the Whole meeting to recommend a General 2011 levy total of $4,597,063—essentially holding the line on the number of dollars the city would levy year over year.
At the special City Council meeting that immediately followed, aldermen voted 9-0 to accept that levy figure.
Fifth Ward Alderman Ralph Dantino, who was unable to attend the previous City Council and Committee of the Whole meetings because he was undergoing experimental cancer treatment, was back home and able participate in Monday's meeting via telephone. At the previous week's City Council meeting, aldermen deadlocked 5-5 on the levy issue, with Mayor Kevin Burns casting the tie vote.
Dantino's vote was not necessary to break a tie Monday.
Voting for the lower levy total at the COW meeting were 1st Ward aldermen Sam Hill and Chuck Brown, 2nd Ward Alderman Richard Marks, 3rd Ward Alderman Dean Kilburg, 4th Ward aldermen Dorothy Flanagan and Ron Singer and Dantino.
Third Ward Alderman Dawn Vogelsberg and 5th Ward Alderman Craig Maladra voted against the lower levy number at the COW meeting, then voted in favor of the measure at the City Council meeting.
"This is the second time in just a few months I've heard the term 'moral obligation or a duty' (in reference to the tax levy.)" Maladra said. "This makes dialogue a bit difficult, as if disagreement is an indication of a moral flaw. But disagree I must, (because) we are charged wth acting in the longterm best interests of the city."
Maladra pointed out that if the city continues to cut back on needed maintenance or improvements to infrastructure, it will be penny wise and pound foolish. And he asked his fellow council members "not to give in to the impulse" of the moment.
"I hear the phrase cut until it hurts," he said. "I submit that if it comes to that, we have gone too far."