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If the Cerro Gordo Village Board establishes a special Business District at it’s Dec. 17 meeting, Village Board President Brad Williams hopes it will be an economic tool to help make the southern Piatt County town of 1,400 just a little more self-sufficient.
Village officials estimate the new district – similar to a Tax Increment Financing District, but not reliant on real estate tax revenues – will raise approximately $40,000 annually. Those dollars could be used for infrastructure improvements and to attract businesses, with a grocery store being at the top of the mayor’s’ list.
The caveat is that it would also result in a one-percent increase in sales tax at most Cerro Gordo establishments (excluding drugs/medicine). But the three-year mayor of the town thinks it is a small price to pay to ready the town for future growth.
“With this economy we’re having trouble finding anyone who wants to do any development or start a new business. But if we’re ready, when the economy turns around, we’re going to be in a good position to attract people,” said Williams.
Business Districts have been around for a long time in Illinois, but gained more popularity when they became easier to establish in 2005. They are similar to TIF districts in that an area must meet the state’s definition of ‘blighted’ in order to be eligible. In Cerro Gordo, the proposed district includes the older downtown business area as well as the newly-developed area to the south that includes Casey’s and Dollar General.
Not everyone is on board with the sales tax increase.
“I’m all for developing new business, but things are really tough right now in the restaurant business,” said Judy Tuvell, owner and operator of Judy’s Kitchen downtown for 11 years. She fears that adding to consumers’ bills could reduce the amount of times they eat out.
“To have a one-percent tax increase is not good. My food costs are already going up, and it’s a struggle,” she added.
If approved, Cerro Gordo’s sales tax rate would rise to 7.25 percent, which Williams points out it is still well below Decatur (9 percent) and Champaign-Urbana (8.75 percent).
“Even by adding and going to seven and a quarter, we’ll still be below most in the state, so we don’t feel that will be a hindrance,” commented the Mayor.
Chelle Shively, vice-president and loan officer at the State Bank of Cerro Gordo, has mixed feelings. Like Tuvell, she doesn’t want to see more taxes on residents, but knows “you don’t get anything for nothing.”
“If it can bring in new business, it would be great for the community. It’s great to have Casey’s and Dollar General in the community,” said Shively. TIF money was used to help attract those retail outlets, and the hope is it opened up the south side of town to further development, both residential and commercial.
“It’s really just another tool,” said Williams, who was appointed mayor in 2010 and was elected to a two-year term a year later. “We don’t have any particular plans right now; we’re not working with anybody. But once we have it in place, we’re going to start marketing to developers.”
But that doesn’t mean he can’t dream, and a grocery store is on his radar.
“We lost our grocery store a few years ago. We’re lucky we now have Casey’s and Dollar General, but you can’t buy fresh meat or fresh produce here,” said Williams.
Other ideas include a used car lot and a car wash, businesses that he sees in towns of similar size to Cerro Gordo.
If approved, the Business District could start generating revenue by March, much sooner than the two-year turnaround sometimes needed for TIF money to begin rolling in.
The village also approved a video gaming ordinance this fall, which will allow for the local legion hall to host an electronic gambling machine. The license is now up for state approval, which should come within the next six months, said Williams.
He is not sure how much revenue the village will net due to video gambling, but latest estimates said it will be only about $2,000 a year.
He is more excited about village residents being able to save an average $180 a year after approving municipal aggregation on the November ballot. The collaborative effort of 55 communities including Decatur, will allow the cities involved to pool their customer base to negotiate for lower electrical rates.
“We’re excited about that. It should affect February’s bills,” said Williams.