Kerry Mellot walked into the city council chambers a little before 10pm. That’s how I knew the school board meeting was over. We didn’t talk but I’m betting he wasn’t particularly pleased with the outcome. District 428 had two major items on its agenda. Grade reconfigurations and the 2009 property tax levy.
Alderman Brendon Gallagher looked up at the clock near the same time.
“Here we go with another marathon meeting,” he quipped.
h/t Mark Charvat
Gallagher seemed a little frustrated. But he remained feisty for the good cause. His insistence on fiscal accountability is one of the most refreshing changes I’ve seen at 200 South Fourth Street in a decade.
But he needs help. There are some with more experience who are very adept at self-preservation and all the expensive baggage that comes with status quo.
Example: from Truth in Taxation Law (see 35 ILCS 200/18-55 through 35 ILCS 200/18-100)
A Second Notice May Be Required
In some instances, a second notice may be required. If the final aggregate tax levy ordinance adopted is larger than the amount stated in the published notice, a second notice is required. The second notice must be published within 15 days of the adoption of the levy.
The above explains why last week’s published notice of the tax levy informed the public that the City could raise its portion of the property taxes by 46.45%.
That announcement generated an acidic Letter to the Editor by Mark Charvat calling for more cuts before raising taxes. His letter received an equally acidic (albeit more subtle) email response from City Manager, Mark Biernacki:
City Manager Mark Biernacki’s E-mail response received 12/10/09:
I was directed to your letter in the Chronicle where you assert the City is proposing to raise its portion of the property taxes by 46.45%. Please know that the legal ad in the paper was purposefully written to let the public know of the high end of the range of options available to the Council should they wish to raise property taxes. I am told that other local governments sometimes take this approach for Truth in Taxation purposes as well.
However, you have been either present at or I’m sure, have watched on TV, the City Council meetings at which the Council has never indicated any desire or willingness to consider anything near that high end in the range. As you know, the Council is instead considering raising the City’s portion of the property tax from $0.60/$100 EAV to $0.625/$100EAV, or a 4.16% increase. These revenues will only cover the City’s obligated pension costs.
Property taxes, levies, and government finances can be a very complicated matter. Because of this, it is important that citizens first call City Hall to fully understand these and other matters before making statements that they mistakenly believe to be factual. A citizen’s right to criticize City government is not being challenged. However, when they do so without all of the facts and background, resulting in alarming and hyperbolic claims and statements, they risk being irresponsible and reckless.
In the instance of your most recent letter, I trust you’ll consider writing a clarification or correction.
The long, short and truth of it is staff respectfully disagreed with the council’s vote on First Reading of the proposed levy that called for a 4.16% increase (from .60/100 to .625/100). They wanted a larger increase and would not have had time to publish a second notice, as required by the Truth in Taxation law quoted above.
Seizing upon any legal loophole available is the way of government in Illinois, I guess. Hey. It works. Taxpayers will pay .65/100 for their city share of the tax pie. That’s an 8 percent increase for those keeping score.
I don’t think Charvat will be writing any clarification or correction letter soon.
The bottom line reason that the staff induced strategy produced for increasing the increase was valid. To cover pension obligations the City needs to keep raising property taxes. And that’s not only because the Police, Fire and IMRF investment portfolio is sucking wind.
City councils were duped, including this one. In the 80s and 90s of the last century they were told not to worry about their workers’ pensions. The state would have to take care of them. Well, be careful what you asked for. The state, influenced heavily by the public sector unions, mandated that local governments must cover any investment losses occurred.
DeKalb mayor Kris Povlsen hit that one on the nail head. It doesn’t matter how poorly the public sector pension funds perform. The taxpayer still has to foot the full bill.
But Povlsen and the city council should give more consideration to Charvat’s call for cutting all fringe expenses before raising taxes. The guffaws and shocked look on staff faces when Charvat talked about those cuts were revealing. They just don’t get it.