By Jordan Cohen
The city moved too late to stop collections next year.
NILES — Residents will still have to pay $10 in additional license-plate fees in 2010 despite council’s intention to rescind the tax this month. The reason: The repeal hasn’t come soon enough.
Council had enacted the fees in October to enable the city to collect the revenue in the event voters approved similar taxes on the countywide ballot in November.
At the time, council members promised to repeal the fees if the county issues were defeated. Both fees were rejected by a wide margin.
“The state told us that we had to rescind the fees 90 days before the end of this year to keep the tax from being collected in 2010 because that’s when the Bureau of Motor Vehicles sets up its computers [for tax collections],” said Mayor Ralph Infante. “There was no way we could rescind 90 days prior because the election wasn’t until November.”
The mayor and Steve Papalas, council’s finance committee chairman, said they learned about the tax problem a few days ago. “This fell through a hole that we just didn’t catch,” Infante said.
The city already has a $5 license plate tax that generates $90,000 in revenue, meaning that the additional taxes would bring in $180,000.
Papalas, D-2nd, suggested the possibility of putting the revenue into a project but said all options, including refunds, will be discussed in a public hearing before any decision is made.
“Families are having tough times, and we pledged the money would go back to them,” Papalas said. “Refunds logistically would be more difficult, but we might come up with a way to do it.”
Infante said Niles has 19,000 vehicles that pay the current license fees. “We can’t write 19,000 checks,” he said.
Auditor Charles Nader said that even with the repeal this month, the state is not likely to authorize changes to the additional fees before the end of 2010.
“It’s just an assumption, but I can’t see the state allowing different rates in one year,” Nader said.
Council plans to have several meetings to discuss its options, including refunds and street projects, before scheduling the public hearing. One option suggested by Infante could be a refund on water and electric bills.
Infante and Papalas disclosed the problem during a finance committee meeting earlier Wednesday, which was originally scheduled to discuss the repeal for the upcoming council session.
The repeal ordinances were moved to second reading Wednesday evening because only five council members were present. Six votes are needed for emergency passage.
“This is the first time in all the years I’ve been on council that we’re talking about giving money back,” Papalas said.