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Councilman David Horn opposes a tax on streaming

Should Decatur begin imposing a tax on Netflix subscriptions?  In the weeks ahead, the Decatur City Council will begin discussing additional sources of revenue needed to maintain city services including a tax to residents using streaming services.  In short, a streaming tax would be imposed on each subscription to a service such as Hulu, Paramount+, and Disney+.  The argument for such a tax is that it does not impose a cost on one of life’s essentials such as taxes on property, water, sewers, or roads.  Furthermore, the revenue generated could be designated by the city council to be used exclusively for certain functions such as meeting rising pension obligations. 

I am opposed to a streaming tax as the city currently has other ample opportunities to generate revenue without imposing a tax on families that subscribe to Disney+.  For example, the city of Decatur has hundreds of acres of land, most notably at the Oakley Sediment Basin, that could be used to generate solar energy.  Solar energy is more profitable than agricultural uses, assists the state in meeting its clean energy goals, and is far more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels.  Despite the substantial negative impacts of gambling and citizen opposition, the city council voted to increase the number of gambling parlors in the city.  Yet, the council continues to prohibit cannabis dispensaries.  Thus, tax revenue and jobs go to other municipalities while the city continues to face whatever the negative consequences of cannabis are. 

While a streaming tax may not be the answer, the city currently faces a significant challenge in providing the services that residents expect, meeting rapidly increasing obligations, and identifying sustainable funding sources for revitalization of our neighborhoods.  Currently, the city is not able to keep pace with the rate of blight in its neighborhoods even though revitalization efforts have transformed parts of the city resulting in a substantial decrease in the number of calls for police and made our city safer.  While the city is doing the best it can to keep our roads in a satisfactory condition, some of our most used local roads have deteriorated and will cost far more to repair than the local gas tax that the city collects.

These financial challenges are already impacting how much money can be allocated to essential services.  For the 2024 budget, the city is using $2,061,540 in water and sewer funds to pay for public safety pension obligations (known as PILOTs – payments in lieu of taxes) and will spend $959,885 to pay for the debt associated with downtown improvements made many years ago.  Said another way, part of your water payments are going to pay for pensions and the city is considering a new TIF district when the previous TIF district could not even generate more economic growth in 23 years than the debt incurred in making improvements. 

In early 2024, the city council adopted its vision for Decatur which includes being identified regionally as a family-friendly community.  Imposing taxes on family-friendly activities is not the way to move forward.  Instead, investments in areas such as green energy can grow our economy and improve quality of life for our residents. 

Horn for Decatur
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