Request to rebate sales taxes to Lake County businesses doesn't gain traction
A request to consider rebating sales tax payments to local businesses to provide relief during the current economic crisis didn't gain traction during a Lake County Board committee discussion Thursday.
The financial and administrative committee debated the concept in a meeting held remotely because of the statewide stay-at-home order. It was one of several items on the agenda aimed at providing financial relief to businesses and residents struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Board member Mike Rummel, a Lake Forest Republican, suggested the idea. His hometown has adopted such a policy, as has nearby Lake Bluff.
"This is a way to help small businesses get some little relief," Rummel said. "This is a way to say we care."
The percentage of sales tax consumers pay in Lake County varies from community to community. The county charges a 1% tax on purchases in unincorporated areas and a .25% tax on purchases anywhere in the county.
Rummel's proposal would have the county rebate revenue from that quarter-percent tax, which amounts to 25 cents for every $100 spent.
County Finance Director Patrice Sutton said the board has issued sales tax rebates before, to encourage businesses to locate in the county.
But County Administrator Gary Gibson noted tax rebates would require county officials to make budget cuts to offset the revenue loss at a time when departments already are reducing spending.
The proposal didn't get support from committee members.
Returning sales tax revenue back to businesses sounds good, committee member Steve Carlson said, but the actual money involved is "minuscule."
"We should emphasize direct aid for people who need it the most," said Carlson, a Gurnee-area Republican.
Committee member Jennifer Clark was similarly dubious.
"How much would a business get?" the Libertyville Democrat asked. "Would that make a difference ... compared to the cost to the county?"
Highland Park Democrat Paul Frank, who leads the financial committee, also asked if officials could do something that has more of a financial impact for recipients.
County Board Chairwoman Sandy Hart, a Lake Bluff Democrat, acknowledged that her hometown and Lake Forest have enacted tax rebates for businesses. But she said the county has access to sources for financial aid for businesses that won't impact the county's own revenue.
Hart has formed a special financial subcommittee to address coronavirus recovery strategies and to direct available federal funding.
To that end, the financial committee recommended creating a dedicated coronavirus fund to ensure money the county receives from the federal government for COVID-19 relief is properly accounted for and spent.
As for the rebate proposal, the committee took no action Thursday.