Mayor Bob O’Dekirk this week poured cold water on the idea of hiking the city gas tax.
He also joined a councilman in characterizing council member Sherri Reardon’s discussion of the topic as an attempt to “panic” people.
Reardon expressed support for a hike in the city’s 1-cent-a-gallon gas tax during a July Finance Committee review of the city’s need for replacement vehicles. She later discussed the topic with The Herald-News.
“I would strongly urge you to start looking at other routes,” O’Dekirk told Reardon at the City Council meeting on Tuesday. “I think from the reaction you got it is pretty clear that the people of Joliet are not looking to have their gas tax raised.”
Reardon, a member of the Finance Committee, said she understood raising the tax was not popular but funding was needed for the city’s aging vehicle fleet.
“We are in an immediate need for $16 million for our decaying vehicles,” Reardon said. “The gas tax was merely brought up in discussion as a possible funding source. There were no decisions made on that.”
City staff provided the $16 million cost estimate.
But O’Dekirk and council member Larry Hug criticized Reardon for her comments, saying the city’s aging vehicle fleet is being addressed.
“Any attempt to press the panic button and try to scare people, I don’t think that should have been done,” O’Dekirk said.
Hug said the city has spent more than $2 million on vehicle replacements in recent years and that the issue was being addressed.
“You were ringing the panic bell,” Hug said to Reardon. “We’ve made headway without raising taxes. There is no dire need.”
Public Assets Supervisor Mike Eulitz said at a July meeting of the Finance Committee that it would cost $16 million to make needed vehicle replacements and suggested setting aside an additional $3 million a year so vehicles could be replaced on a regular schedule.
Eulitz said more than half of the city’s police vehicles and about three-fourths of the vehicles used in the Roadway Division are at least 10 years old.
Finance Committee Chairman Michael Turk defended Reardon’s comments, saying he did not believe “she was tied” to the gas tax hike.
But Turk said the city needs to do something about its vehicles.
“Some of them are 20 years old,” he said. “In some of them you can see the street through the floor boards. It’s not safe for the employees.”