Editor's Note: This article has been edited after publication to correct the spelling of Donald Labriola's name.
Plenty of passionate discussion surrounded the Mokena Village Board of Trustees' consideration of and subsequent motion to approve an ordinance amendment to eliminate the village's vehicle registration sticker fee at the board's Nov. 26 meeting.
The amendment to the village's vehicle licensing ordinance will eliminate the requirement for vehicle stickers, saving residents $13 per car per year. Eliminating the vehicle sticker program has been proposed by Mayor Joe Werner in the past and was brought up again after the board approved video gaming within the village in October.
According to Village Administrator John Downs, the village currently takes in about $125,000 in net revenue from sticker sales. Downs said a survey of local liquor license holders conducted by Director of Economic and Community Development Alan Zordan indicated that about 40 terminals would be installed in the village, which Downs predicts will yield annual revenues of approximately $50,000. That amount is based on a conservative interpretation of the state's estimation of video gaming revenues, which takes into account about 50 percent of what the state is expecting municipalities to see from each machine.
Downs said the projected annual gaming revenue, combined with a recent increase in sales tax revenues and the current state of the village's general fund balance, means that the village can afford to give residents a small break.
"Our retail sales tax has rebounded, and we're at an all-time high, well above anything prior to the recession, and it's continuing to trend higher on a regular basis," Downs said. "And our general fund is in the most healthy position it's been in the entire time I've been chief budget officer."
Validity of workshop discussion challenged
During public comment, Mokena resident Jim Giglio criticized the board for what he said was a lack of public discussion on the matter before the subject of eliminating the vehicle sticker program came up for a vote at the Nov. 26 meeting.
"I think that it was subversive," Giglio said. "I don't think that you were honest and forthcoming, and you weren't transparent. And I think that's wrong, and you owe it to your residents to be above board, to set a higher standard."
Giglio suggested that the board may have violated the state's Open Meetings Act by discussing the vehicle sticker issue at a work session meeting last Monday without listing it on the meeting agenda. However, Village Attorney Tiffany Thompson said those rules only apply to items in which the board will vote or otherwise take direct action.
"I believe the meeting was properly posted," Thompson said. "There was an agenda. The board was taking no action that evening, and, therefore, if they discuss something that was not on the agenda, that does not make it a violation. The board is free to discuss items that are not on the agenda as long as they are not taking action, which they did not."
Giglio said he would personally prefer to see the revenue from the vehicle stickers go towards paying for more positions in the village government in areas such as public safety and economic development, and that the village should look into saving residents money in more substantial areas, such as by renegotiating a lower water rate with the City of Chicago. He also expressed reservations about the board's reliance on projected video gaming revenue to offset the cost of eliminating the stickers, stating that he was uncomfortable relying on estimations when it wasn't clear how many gaming machines were actually going to end up in Mokena businesses. Giglio said he thought the matter had moved to the voting stage too quickly.
"I think we're jumping the gun here," Giglio said. "I'll say it again: There's an election coming up in April, and the timing is awful suspect. Let's wait and see what the numbers bear out before we make any decisions like this, and let's have some public discussion. Let's have a workshop with it on the agenda so people can show up."
Werner claimed the village offered residents plenty of opportunities to ask questions about the topic and comment publicly if they had any issues with it.
"On October 8, before this discussion about video gaming and the idea of doing away with these vehicle stickers was ever brought up, that was during a regular meeting," Werner said. "I brought it up, some detail at that point was brought up, and we heard from no one about the fact that we were going to be bringing it up. We didn't vote on this that night. We said we were going to be talking about it again here in November, and again, here we are. It's been in the papers, people have had ample opportunity to raise any concerns they had about it, and we heard nothing."
Before the vote, Trustee Donald Labriola explained to the board that he also thought more discussion was necessary, and that he would be opposing the motion in the vote.
"I don't see what the urgency is that we have to do it tonight," Labriola said. "I mean, we have budget discussions coming up starting in January. There's a lot of time to talk about it, we have a long while to go before they start issuing reminders to buy stickers for next year. I just don't see the urgency. I'd like to see the process work itself out and get some numbers and have these discussions."
Trustee John Mazzorana said he supported the motion because he felt Mokena's residents deserved a break after enduring a few years of economic hardship.
"We can now afford to give some relief to our regular residents," Mazzorana said. "They've also suffered with us the last two and a half to three years. And giving them some relief in an economy where, based on these numbers, we can afford to do it, I think is the right thing to do now."
The motion carried in a 5-1 vote, with Labriola the only trustee to vote against it. With the amendment to the village's vehicle registration ordinance passed, the current program will remain in place until April 30, 2013, after which village residents will no longer be required to purchase vehicle registration stickers.
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