Will County officials want to reduce tax levy by $1M; raise court fees
Susan DeMar LaffertyContact Reporter
Will County officials may be forced to cut another $1 million out of their proposed budget after the Finance Committee voted Tuesday to reduce its property tax revenues by that amount.
County Executive Larry Walsh, D-Elwood, proposed a levy increase of $3.1 million — $2.1 million in new property and a $1 million increase within the Consumer Price Index.
During Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting, members voted 4 to 3 to eliminate that 1 percent CPI increase, which could lower the tax rate a bit more than initially proposed, as well as reduce revenues.
The vote was along party lines, with Republicans choosing not to take the CPI increase. The budget and the tax levy have to be approved by the full county board.
Finance Committee chairman, Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, said he did not believe there were enough votes on the county board to pass levy as initially proposed with the 1 percent CPI increase.
They will now create a budget based on $1 million in less revenue, he said.
By law, the county is allowed to raise its levy by the 2.1 percent CPI increase, which would have equaled $2.5 million in additional property tax revenues, said budget director ReShawn Howard.
Walsh’s budget proposed a 1 percent CPI increase, and with an increase in the county’s equalized assessed valuation, the tax rate could be lowered 1.5 percent, from .614 to .60, Walsh said during his budget presentation.
The increase in property taxes was to offset the loss of $2.4 million in state revenues, and pay for building projects.
“The real question is what are they going to cut,” said Nick Palmer, Walsh’s chief of staff, after the meeting. “We are not fat in our budget.”
Member Ken Harris, D-Bolingbrook, said the county was “shorting” itself by not taking the full 2.1 percent CPI increase allowed.
The county’s taxes are “infinitesimally small” compared to other taxing bodies, like schools, said board member Jackie Traynere, D-Bolingbrook.
“I don’t want to be known as Illinois, who doesn’t levy enough, covers it up and has a big problem. We can keep the rate as is or lower it and still get enough to run county,” she said. “Everyone complains about taxes. That will never change.”
“Any time you raise taxes, it hurts all the people. People are fed up with government raising taxes,” said Steve Balich, R-Homer Township.
Fricilone said Congress may eliminate the State and Local Tax deduction, which now allows taxpayers to deduct those taxes from their federal income taxes.
“We have to think about every dollar we increase,” he said.
Balich also lashed out at the state for “stealing” the county’s money.
In passing its budget, the state is keeping more of the funds it typically distributes to local governments and is charging a 2 percent administrative fee for collecting all the sales tax revenues.
Balich suggested charging the state an “origination fee” for funds that come from the county.
“If we don’t stand up to the state, they will keep cutting us. Next year, they will take it all,” he said. “How do we stop them from stealing from us?”
Member Cory Singer, R-Frankfort, said he wants to know the total impact of all the state’s cuts to local governments over the years, across all departments.
“When you add it all up, it will be a significant number. We have to know what the state has taken from us,” he said. “Because the state is a financial disaster, we have to budget less accordingly.”
In the Judicial Committee meeting, also held Tuesday morning, members recommended increasing fees for users of the county’s court system.
A public hearing will be held at the Oct. 21 county board meeting on upping the judicial facility fee from $25 to $30 and the law library fee from $13 to $20 — the maximum allowed for both.
Roger Holland, court administrator, said the law library fee — levied on those who file civil cases — has not been increased since 2008, and is needed to meet operational expenses in its budget, which is expected to have a deficit of $144,000.
The $7 fee hike would generate $155,000 more per year, he said, adding that library operates solely on revenues from these fees.
“We have less revenue because people have filed less lawsuits,” Holland said. The library is “quite busy,” and he expects more people to use it when the county begins electronic filing of lawsuits, he said.
“You are in a pickle here. You need to cut costs now,” said board Speaker Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort Township, noting that this $20 fee is the maximum revenue the library can generate.
The $25 judicial facility fee, which the county began collecting in January, 2015, has fallen short of generating the anticipated $1.5 million to $2 million, Holland said, adding that for the first eight months of this year, the fee has brought in $844,000.
The fee is levied on cases that require a court appearance and the funds are used to pay for the new courthouse, which will be under construction next spring.
Holland also said people can seek fee waivers if they cannot afford to pay.