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Sales Tax, Economic Incentives Take Center Stage at Candidate Forum

Mar 09, 2015 09:19PM ● Published by Steven Jack

From left Village President candidates Tony Giles and Gail Johnson

Economic development and sales tax were at the heart of Monday night’s Oswego Chamber of Commerce candidate forum at Village Hall. 

Six candidates for village trustee and two for village president spent much of the evening discussing their stance on those issues, and a distinction between two groups of candidates was readily apparent. 

A group of self-described fiscally conservative candidates that includes president candidate Tony Giles and trustee candidates Rasma Motykowski, Brian Thomas and Diane Selmer said they do not support economic incentives to help bring new development to town nor do they support any sales tax increase to help fund future infrastructure improvements. 

President candidate Gail Johnson and trustee candidates Karin McCarthy-Lange, Ryan Kauffman and Joe West did not rule out incentives like sales tax rebates to help capture the millions of dollars annually that is spent by Oswego residents out of town. Nor did they rule out a possible sales tax increase to help fund $2 to $3 million in annual road repairs in the village, an eventual new $25 million police station or a $30 million water treatment facility that may be needed in the next 40 years as the area plans for a new source of drinking water.

“The financing we’re talking about isn’t $300,000 here or $100,000 there,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about $2 to 3 million for our roads forever. … If I can find a way that people who don’t live here can help us pay for (infrastructure improvements), I’m all in.”

Giles said he has a plan to fund road improvements that includes dipping into the village’s general fund reserves, using existing motor fuel tax funds and $425,000 annually coming in through a recently expired sales tax rebate to Meijer.

“I think what my opponent is saying here when she said other people are going to pay for it is a sales tax increase, Giles said. “She talks about finding ways to not have to raise taxes, but her only alternative is to do just that.”

On several occasions Giles also accused Johnson of “hitting the panic button” in her planning for the village’s future. 

“I don’t hit a panic button,” Johnson said. “I feel an obligation to look beyond the immediate present. It’s my job as a leader to look out at the future.”

When it came to incentives, trustee candidates West, McCarthy-Lange and Kauffman each hammered the village for not being business friendly and not landing the Sam’s location that eventually opened in Montgomery. Sam’s chose Montgomery after a deal that offered sales tax rebates. The store is estimated to bring Montgomery $500,000 in annual sales tax revenue.

“I’m for whatever makes Oswego the strongest competitor around,” Kauffman said. “I want businesses to think ‘Naperville, Plainfield, Montgomery, nah; we’re gong to Oswego’ We can make that happen by adopting a more business friendly mindset. We can not afford to lose another Sam’s Club.

Motykowski, Selmer and Thomas each said they do not support economic incentives of any kind and that “growth should pay for itself.”

“Incentive can be explained as a subsidy,” Motykowski said. “Business owners are not on a level playing field in Oswego. Big box retailers have a different set of rules than small businesses in the downtown area or on the outskirts of town. I think it’s about time the village let us all play on the same playing field.”

To find out more about the candidates, watch the entire 90-minute forum below, and watch for candidate questionnaires on Only Oswego next week.

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