Bloomington creates mandatory business registry, hikes 100 occupational fees

Bloomington creates mandatory business registry, hikes 100 occupational fees

Bloomington City Council approved an ordinance that creates a mandatory business registry with a $50 entrance fee, in addition to hiking 100 permit and licensing fees.

Bloomington City Council voted Oct. 8 to approve an ordinance creating a mandatory business registry, according to the Pantagraph. In addition, the ordinance will increase 100 fees on licenses, inspections, permits and other occupational requirements.

The new registry will require businesses to pay a one-time $50 fee upon entry, and impose a $75 fine on businesses that fail to submit yearly registration renewals on time. Home-based businesses and certain charitable organizations are exempt from the entrance fee but are still subject to the $75 penalty.

The registry will include information such as the type of products sold at each business, the materials used in those products and contact information. According to the Pantagraph, the city will store this information for police and firefighters to access during emergencies. The city also aims to use the information to identify new businesses subject to local taxes, such as the food-and-beverage tax, or notify businesses regarding construction projects and road closures.

Beyond safety and tax-compliance precautions, however, the city also aims to use new revenues from the fee increases to help shore up Bloomington’s struggling finances. Bloomington’s current operating budget, approved in April, included a $2.9 million deficit. A portion of the estimated $400,000 in revenue generated under the ordinance will go toward narrowing that shortfall, according to the Pantagraph.

One cause of Bloomington’s budget woes is the growth in pension costs for local public safety retirees. An Illinois Department of Insurance report shows the city’s contributions to its police and fire pension funds have spiked substantially between 2015 and 2016, the most recent years for which data is available. The city’s – or taxpayers’ – contribution to fire pensions rose by nearly 12 percent during that time, while police pension contributions increased by nearly 24 percent.

All told, Bloomington taxpayers contributed a combined $9.1 million to the city’s police and fire pension funds in 2016 – $1.4 million more than in 2015.

But this is hardly a new development. With few exceptions, Bloomington taxpayers’ contributions to the city’s public safety pensions have seen near-annual increases since at least 2005. Taxpayers’ fire pension contributions have grown by 188 percent since 2005, during which contributions to police pensions spiked by 190 percent.

Despite these increases, both pension funds remain just around 50 percent funded.

Across Illinois, growing pension costs are weighing on local budgets, leading communities such as Bloomington to raise taxes and fees in an effort to stabilize their strained finances.

But overburdening businesses to fill budget holes is not a sustainable solution, especially given Illinois’ already-poor business environment. Moreover, tax and fee increases are driving Illinoisans across state lines. Residents cite Illinois’ high taxes as the No. 1 reason they consider moving out of state.

State lawmakers must pursue real pension reform to provide taxpayers with the relief they desperately need while keeping their promises to government pensioners.

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