Local News

Harvard voters to decide whether to create sales tax

The 1% tax would be used to fund infrastructure projects in the city

A road in need of repairs is shown in a Harvard subdivision.

Harvard voters will be asked in the June primary whether the city can have its own sales tax.

The Harvard City Council unanimously approved the language for the referendum at Tuesday’s meeting, sending the proposal to the voters for the June 28 primary. If passed by the voters, Harvard will be able to levy a 1% municipal sales tax on the sale of goods within the city.

Revenue from the tax will be earmarked for infrastructure projects, city officials said.

The question voters will be asked to consider will be “Shall the corporate authorities of the city of Harvard be authorized to levy a municipal sales tax at a rate of 1% of eligible sales for expenditures on public infrastructure.”

A 1% sales tax is the maximum amount a non-home rule community like Harvard can levy, according to city documents.

The council was given several options for how to phrase the question and aldermen said it was best to make the question as clear as possible so voters understand what they are voting on.

“The general voter doesn’t often read about this stuff until five seconds before they walk into the booth,” Alderman Daniel Carncross said. “They see the word tax and instantly think, ‘I’m against it.’”

Harvard’s last referendum in 2017 confused voters, Carncross said. That referendum saw Harvard voters vote in favor of putting money toward improving parks and libraries, but reject a tax to help fund those improvements.

Alderman Charlie Gorman said the sales tax is necessary to be able to repair the number of street blocks in need of repair because current revenue from the motor fuel tax isn’t enough to meet the city’s needs.

“The number of streets we have marked as needing repair increases by more each year,” Gorman said. “This is a way to fund it and try to use a revenue stream that people can see that it directly goes to the city.”

If approved by the voters, Gorman said the sales tax would roughly double the amount the city receives from the motor fuel tax, although he said he was still unsure exactly how much they were expecting to receive. The city expected to receive $557,000 this year from the motor fuel tax, according to the city’s budget.

The city is considering putting out information explaining the referendum and its purpose for voters to consider.

“We’re going to have to do a good job explaining it, so [voters] see the benefit of it,” Gorman said. “We plan to put out some flyers and so on specifically stating what it’s about and how it will be used.”