Bartlett trustee candidates debate utility taxes
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Clockwise from upper left: Michael Camerer, Vince Carbonaro, Angelina Filippo, Aaron Reinke, Dennis Nolan and Michelle Hughes.
The one incumbent in the race for Bartlett trustee is standing his ground for voting yes to implementing new taxes last year, while the five other candidates running say there are other ways the village could increase revenues.
Three seats on the village board will be filled in the April 9 election.
The new utility taxes on electric and gas bills went into effect last June, and cost each household about $85 per year. To partially offset the new taxes, the board eliminated $15 vehicle stickers and offered seniors a rebate.
Dennis Nolan, a 49-year-old attorney running for his fifth term as trustee, said the board sifted through many budgets and "anguished for many years" about how to fill a budget gap that was the result of the recession and the lack of a new source of revenue for 18 years.
"Do we ever want to tax our residents? No," he said. "But as a government and as a business operation we have to provide residents services … and in the village of Bartlett, our residents demand a high level of service. We deliver it."
Nolan said he was convinced to support the new taxes when told the alternative would be cuts in the public works and police departments, which "were not acceptable," he said.
He added that the village has stayed away from a food and beverage tax and a sales tax, which he said could put a burden on businesses in the village.
"This was probably the least intrusive of the evils," he said. "You can't shy away from the hard issues. You can't just say I'm not going to vote for the utility tax just because I'm running for re-election."
Michael Camerer, a 54-year-old chiropractor, said he could see where there was a need for additional revenue, but he thought the taxes "caught the community off guard."
"I think a lot of people aren't aware of actually what transpired," he said, adding that some residents are happy about the vehicle stickers, but don't realize they are getting hit with the new taxes. "That concerns me as much as anything. It's the transparency of the board that just really doesn't exist."
Nolan said the board discussed the utility taxes for months and did what they could to educate residents.
"We had public sessions, we had it on the website, we invited public input," Nolan said. "We cannot drag the residents into village hall."
Camerer thinks there are still spending cuts the board can make without crippling the village.
"They don't say can you make sure I have my services, can you make sure the streets are plowed? These are the things they won't bring up, obviously, but it's not foremost in their mind," he said. "What's foremost in mind every time that I talk to them is, what are you going to do to lower my taxes? That's a major concern."
Vincent Carbonaro, a 52-year-old former Bartlett police officer and chief finance officer for Global Intermodal Transport, also felt that the way the board approved the taxes was "a little sneaky."
"Once we become home rule, there's really no reason to ask anything, they just do it," he said.
Carbonaro said he would make bond repayment a priority if elected, so once the bonds are paid off the utility taxes could be abolished.
As for implementing a sales tax instead, Carbonaro said it would just run businesses out of town.
"It wouldn't be a smart thing to do because right now downtown is a ghost town and putting another tax there would just drive people somewhere else."
Angelina Filippo, a 43-year-old attorney, said she felt if "things were handled and managed a little more diplomatically" when the board passed the taxes, maybe they wouldn't be so unpopular with residents.
"The tax is what it is," she said. "We need the money, I agree."
She felt, however, that Village President Michael Airdo's comment that the elimination of the vehicle stickers "should cause people to run out of their houses and yell in the streets" was inappropriate.
Filippo said some seniors are upset, because if they don't have a vehicle they went from paying nothing to paying the new utility taxes.
Michelle Hughes, a 34-year-old financial adviser, said she thinks there's a lot of room for discussion regarding the budget and possibly eliminating the taxes.
"We have the option of removing it," she said. "We have a balanced budget, which is great. So maybe the conversation should be more about if that's the case, how do we keep that balanced budget and can we do it with the elimination of this tax?"
While she didn't know the other options the board had when they made the choice to implement the taxes, Hughes felt it probably didn't come as an easy decision.
"Taxation is a necessary evil, unfortunately," she said. "But you certainly want to figure out how do you work within your budget to avoid the excess taxes."
Aaron Reinke, a 37-year-old attorney and adjunct college professor, said while he doesn't like the utility taxes, he realizes there is no easy solution. He said he would work to get rid of the taxes.
"I think there are other ways we can generate revenue," he said, noting that budget cuts, a sales tax or enhanced adjudication are possible solutions. "We're going to have to be creative."
Reinke said while there is still a need to cut expenditures, if the village is going to tax, it should make the taxes as broad-based as possible.
"I think a sales tax is far more broad-based than the utility tax, because the utility tax only falls on people who own businesses or the residents in the village, versus the sales tax is going to capture somebody who stops and buys a candy bar at Mobil or comes by the Starbucks," he said.
• To see all our coverage of the Bartlett trustee race including candidate bios and Q&As, go to www.dailyherald.com/news/politics/election/race/Bartlett- Village-Board/.
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