BLOOMINGTON — The McLean County Chamber of Commerce would support the City Council increasing the local sales tax if Bloomington sets aside a percentage of the new revenue to schools.
The qualifier was among five outlined in a letter emailed to Mayor Tari Renner several hours before the City Council met Monday night to vote on a proposal to match Normal's recent full percentage point increase to 8.75 percent.
The letter was sent in response to several council members asking for the Chamber's position. The organization was unable to gather a quorum, so Charlie Moore, president and CEO, and Robert Miller, chairman of the board, said they offered the letter as "an unofficial position."
Given the Chamber's lack of support of a sales tax referendum for schools when it was on the ballot in March 2014, "I find that curious," said Renner.
At that time, the Chamber board said it opposed the referendum, arguing it could drive up the cost of local commerce.
By a 2-1 margin, voters shot down the proposal to collect a penny on every dollar spent on eligible items. The measure, had it passed, was expected to generate about $17.7 million annually for 13 public school districts, including District 87 in Bloomington and Normal-based McLean County Unit 5.
Moore said had the ballot initiative passed, there would have been "no appetite" to have conversations about funding other community needs.
"Had that 1 percent passed, we already would have been tied at one of the highest sales tax rates around and not taken care of all the needs we need to focus on," he told The Pantagraph.
Last week, Bloomington and Unit 5 superintendents asked city aldermen to raise the sales tax to 9 percent and allocate the extra 0.25 percent to their districts. Normal officials said no local school district approached them about receiving sales tax money.
"Stellar education is the mainstay of economic development as it relates to the quality of workforce for our members, the talent necessary for their business success, growth and overall future business attraction," said the Chamber letter.
It also states Bloomington should reduce its structural deficit by 50 percent or more using, among other things, community budget task force recommendations, but "not including any new revenue that may be generated from a tax."
"For example, if you have a $6 million structural deficit, then you would reduce that by 50 percent by eliminating $3 million, not adding a new form of revenue to offset the deficit," Moore said
Chamber officials also urged the council to spend the new revenue in collaboration with Normal, for mental health services, public transit service expansion, economic and business development and to implement a purchase policy that gives preference to local businesses for city purchases and needed services.
Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle