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Pekin City Council shuts the door on proposal to tax self-storage unit leases

Joe Deacon

A proposal by Pekin city staff to create a 5% tax on self-storage unit leases never got off the ground Monday.

The city council didn't discuss or vote on the plan after a motion to bring the proposed tax to the council table failed because there was no second.

Before the council's lack of action on the motion, the owners of two of Pekin's self-storage facilities spoke out against the tax during the public comment portion of the council meeting.

"This is [BS]," said an angry Rick Evans, co-owner of Koch Street Mini-Storage with his wife Diane. "If you pass this tax, I will fight it with everything I have. I'm already paying $100,000 in property taxes. Now you want to tax my rent rolls?

"You must think we make a lot of money in the self-storage business. Do you know how hard it is to start a business? It's not fun. I've worked hard for 20 years to keep my business going."

Jacob Force, owner of Force Storage, said he wanted to remind council members that most of the self-storage facilities are locally-owned.

Josh Wray, the city's economic development director, proposed the tax that would have been applied only to new leases and lease renewals.

In his pitch for the tax, Wray said commercial property is a key economic driver for a city because of the sales tax, property tax and income tax from employees that it creates.

"While self-storage units are a necessary service to the community, they are very low use compared to other commercial uses," he said. "Staff is proposing a self-storage unit tax to help recover the opportunity cost from using commercial land for storage."

Permit, inspection and license fees increased for the first time in 20 years

The fees Pekin charges for permits, inspections and licenses in the Community Development and Public Works departments haven't been increased since 2004. That changed Monday.

The council approved increases averaging 27%. The largest increase in dollars is from $2,500 to $3,000 for a new telecommunications tower permit, and the largest percentage increase is 233% for a residential electrical inspection [201-400 amps] from $43 to $150.

The new rates will be posted in one file on the city's website instead of being scattered throughout the website.

"As everyone knows, nothing costs the same as it did 20 years ago," said Mayor Pro-Tem Karen Hohimer, who ran the council meeting in the absence of Mayor Mary Burress, who was out of town.

City Manager John Dossey said city staff did extensive research before proposing the increases.

"We found out we were well below what other area communities are charging, and they're also considering increases," Dossey said. "We're not going overboard with these increases. And the increases will not deter economic development."

Chief building official Nic Maquet said the increases will make a big difference in his department's costs for the services, but not cover them entirely.

The council voted 5-1 for the increases, with Rick Hilst casting the no vote.

Council unanimously approved a change in the fee increase proposal that gave the responsibility for considering waiving or reducing a fee to council instead of the city manager.

"This is no disrespect to our current city manager," said Hilst, who proposed the change. "Having the city manager responsible for a fee change opens the door in the future for possible abuse."

Contract renewed for police tool that unlocks cellphones for crime investigations

The Pekin Police Department will continue to use the GrayKey digital forensics tool to unlock cell phones seized as evidence in crimes and retrieve needed data from the phone.

An annual contract for $21,630 with Magnet Forensics Software was unanimously approved Monday.

"GrayKey is the industry leader," said Police Chief Sean Ranney, who noted that detectives can get data off a cell phone using GrayKey in less than a day.

"In the past year and a half, more than 100 cell phones have been downloaded by our detectives using GrayKey," Ranney said. "GrayKey and our Flock camera system have helped solve several major cases over the past several years, including a drive-by shooting, double vehicular homicide, numerous drug-inducted homicides, and a business bomb threat."

City buys property to clear the way for wider Court Street sidewalk

The city will purchase property at 909 Court St., for $114,000 so it can build a wider sidewalk at that location. The concrete masonry addition to a home there will be demolished to give the city room for the new sidewalk.

After demolition, the city will sell the home to the homeowner for $63,000.

The $114,000 purchase price was derived from an appraisal of the property. The council unanimously approved the purchase and sale on Monday.

Three homes slated for demolition

Homes at 107 Edds Ave., 1214 Black St., and 327 Park Ave., in Pekin will be demolished by Morton-based Wayne Litwiller Exacvating.

Council approved contracts Monday for $13,585 at 107 Edds, $56,160 at 1214 Black and $30,600 at 327 Park.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.