Photo by Carla Waters

City Attorney Joe Cainkar talks about legal matters at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

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The Watseka City Council will investigate the possibility of adding a gas tax.

Alderman Dennis Cahoe said at last week’s finance committee meeting that the city’s roads are in need of work and this would be a way to establish some funds to do that. Cahoe said at the time that raising property taxes is not a good idea. He also said that if anyone else has ideas on how to get some of the projects funded the council will be happy to listen.

On April 27 Cahoe said, “Last finance meeting we talked about this gas tax as a way to possibly finance street repairs. I think all of us agree there’s plenty of work to be done on streets. Since I didn’t have all the answers to questions you might have, I’ve asked Mr. (city attorney Joe) Cainkar to speak.”

Cainkar said he has distributed a draft ordinance.

“Really, it’s just going to be the rate you want to apply per gallon,” he said. “In 2019 the Illinois Legislature passed a law that allowed any municipality in Cook County to pass a gas tax for up to three cents per gallon. It doesn’t apply to any municipality outside of Cook County.

“Home rule municipalities have the ability to do it irrespective of the statute. Even before that if you were a home rule municipality in Cook County you could have the gas tax. If you were not a home rule municipality in Cook County it involved a referendum.”

Watseka is a home rule community. “You can impose the tax, so basically you’d be taxing a per gallon basis of regular gas and diesel that comes through and is sold at retail.”

Mayor John Allhands asked about the reporting of the gallons.

“We set it up through the distributor,” Cainkar said. “Whatever they deliver to the retailer is what we base the tax off.”

Cainkar said the Illinois Department of Revenue has the list of the properties that the city gets retail sales from.

Allhands said the one question the council had was about enforcement. Cainkar said the distributor will collect it from the retailer based upon what they deliver. “The retailer in turn gets it from the end user,” he said.

Cainkar said there is not a way to find out now how many gallons are sold. The reports at the state also show other items sold.

Allhands asked Cainkar if many municipalities he represents have a gas tax. Cainkar said, “Most do.”

Cainkar said, too, that the city does not have to designate what the money will go toward. Allhands said the city wants to use it for roads and wondered if the city should get a loan to start the projects right away and then repay it with the tax money as it comes in. Cainkar said most do not do it that way. He said the municipalities issued a tax from one cent to has much as six cents.

The council agreed that they would try to talk with retailers about how much gasoline is sold to get an idea of how much the tax will generate. Cainkar noted that retailers can offer the information but are not required to do so.

Cainkar said that he can finalize the ordinance once the council decides if they want to establish the tax and how much it will be.

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