The Champaign City Council is considering a four-cent a gallon motor fuel tax --- a level that would be higher than a similar tax in Urbana, but lower than one in Danville.
City officials say recent budget cuts have reduced spending on street maintenance, at the same time that a "complete streets" strategy is making the work more expensive. At Tuesday night's city council study session, Councilman Tom Bruno said Champaign needs the additional money to avoid the congested streets of big urban areas.
"One only needs to drive in the Chicago area, or the suburbs or southern California to appreciate how blessed we are to have a lack of traffic congestion in Champaign," Bruno said. "If we want to keep that, if we want to maintain that, we have to be able to fund our streets."
Bruno said motorists wouldn't see any change in gasoline prices, because gas station owners absorb the cost to keep customers coming to buy snacks, cigarettes and liquor. But Councilwoman Karen Foster was doubtful, saying the gas tax could hurt other Champaign businesses that use motor fuel in high quantities.
"That will have a huge impact on them by having to buy bulk fuel," Foster said. "It's in the thousands of dollars, it's not just when we go to the pump and you have another $1.20 or $5 on your pump. It's thousands of dollars to these businesses."
Mayor Don Gerard joined four other council members to endorse the motor fuel tax on a 5 to 4 vote. A final council vote is expected in December or January.
In other action at the Tuesday night session, the Champaign City Council voted to give the public an additional opportunity to speak during their meetings.
A city council study session grew raucous three weeks ago, when several people alleging excessive force by police in the arrest of Calvin Miller were not allowed to speak. The council eventually suspended the rules to allow public comments --- but public comment on issues not on the agenda is usually allowed only at regular council meetings only, not study session. Council members changed that rule Tuesday night, voting unanimously to allow public comment on any topic at study sessions as well. Councilman Tom Bruno said the important thing was to keep the rules consistent and clear.
"Because there were people who maybe wanted to speak that night, who stayed away because our rules were clear that there wasn't going to be any public participation that night," Bruno said. "So as long as our rules are clear, I think there's unanimity among us that we like public participation."
Also on Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council voted to approve a new council district map reflecting 2010 census results.