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DeKalb fuel tax increase a concern for local gas station owners

DeKALB – Hafiz Aousaf, manager of the Mobil gas station at 2400 Sycamore Road in DeKalb, said a 2-cent-a-gallon increase to the city’s motor fuel tax would be brutal for his business.

“Gas stations in Sycamore already have an edge because they can sell beer and liquor, but with this, it’s going to be really bad,” Aousaf said. “The state increased taxes a few months ago, and now this tax increase is going to kill small gas stations.”

Sixth Ward Alderman Mike Verbic said the response has been the same from the gas stations owners he has spoken with since the DeKalb City Council gave preliminary approval to a proposal to raise the motor fuel tax as a means of providing additional revenue for street maintenance.

“With Sycamore so close, [DeKalb gas stations] are at risk of losing customers for 2 cents per gallon because many people are driving both in and around DeKalb and Sycamore,” Verbic said. “Comments from owners were pretty universal in that they believe a number of people that live in DeKalb work elsewhere and would likely fill up at another destination instead of at home for 2 cents more.”

The City Council approved the first reading of the ordinance during its Dec. 11 meeting, where the fiscal 2018 budget was passed, but failed to reached the two-thirds supermajority required to waive a second reading of the measure.

A 1-cent gas tax increase was originally proposed during fiscal 2018 budget talks, but consensus was reached that it would not generate enough revenue for the city’s roads to be worthwhile.

Verbic, who voted against the first reading and second reading waiver, proposed that the ordinance be taken before local gas station owners and the Economic Development Committee before the council makes a decision.

“I value the committee and the advice they give to the council,” Verbic said. “And I believe this was a very hasty proposal without any review.”

The tax increase was one of four proposals introduced by Public Works Director Tim Holdeman to help restore the city’s underfunded streets. Holdeman had said the city has invested about $860,000 a year on average for street maintenance, when it would take about $13 million to improve streets to the level that residents desire.

Last year, the city spent about $1.3 million for street repair, but $1 million of it was devoted to roads within the city’s two tax increment financing districts, which make up about 20 percent of all of the streets within the city.

Should the motor fuel tax increase pass, more than
$2 million could be available for road funding, $1.5 million of which would be available for streets outside the city’s TIF districts.

DeKalb resident Linda Downes said that although she would probably go to a Sycamore station for a better deal on gas because she is retired and usually not in a hurry, she would not be adamantly against an increase.

She said that the 2 cents would be a minimal debt if it provides for streets, and the taxes she paid in her former hometown of Wheaton were much higher.

Many residents of Verbic’s ward, however, have emailed or messaged him on social media commending him for speaking out against the ordinance.

DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith, meanwhile, said he has not received any communication from the public about the motor fuel tax increase since the last council meeting, but he encouraged all residents to reach out to the mayor, aldermen or city staff with any concerns.

“We will try to find the answer and get back to these folks,” Smith said. “I want a government that is fully participatory.”

Smith said it’s likely a second reading on the ordinance will take place at the council’s Jan. 8 meeting, which likely will be in the council chambers of the DeKalb Municipal Building, 200 S. Fourth St.

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