McDermed votes “NO” on Will County Property Tax Increase

McDermed votes “NO” on Will County Property Tax Increase

Times Weekly – October 17, 2013
http://thetimesweekly.com/news/2013/oct/17/county-board-showdown-over-levy/
Will County board showdown over levy
Weigel passes, Walsh casts tie-breaking vote in favor of increase

Rex Robinson | 10/17/2013, 3:34 p.m.

In what became a battle of the two political parties Thursday, Will County Executive Larry Walsh had to cast the deciding vote in favor of a tax levy that, much to the chagrin of republicans on the board, will likely result in a slight increase for all property owners.

For more than a half hour, democrats laid out reasons why they think the increase is needed to pay for vital county services as well as much needed capital projects, while republicans decried how with economy continues to struggle and the last thing the board should be doing is raising people’s taxes.

More than once, Walsh found himself slamming the gavel to keep board members from talking over each other as they debated what could amount to about a $10 property tax increase annually for the owner of a $200,000 home. This increase only includes the county’s portion of the tax bill, and does not include any other increases by local school districts and other taxing bodies.

The total levy as amended and approved only by Walsh’s vote includes up to a $900,000 increase its tax levy, which is the amount of property taxes a taxing body uses toward its budget. In the end, the vote was 12-12-1, with county board member Tom Weigel (R-New Lenox) passing, and Walsh, siding with democrats to cast the deciding vote to adopt the amended levy.

Will County board member Jim Moustis (R-Frankfort) (top left) debates the tax levy increase at Thursday’s board meeting.

Republicans on the board stood firm and would not budge on any increase, no matter what it amounted to. Republican caucus chairman and board member James Moustis (R-Frankfort) said even if the increase amounted to only $1 a year for property owner he would have voted against it.

Finance committee chairman and county board member Steve Wilhelmi (D-Joliet) at first made a motion to table adoption of the levy to give the board more time to discuss it, but the board voted 13-12 against that move. It was then that the debate on the floor got underway.

Wilhelmi, county board Speaker Herb Brooks (D-Joliet) and other democratic leaders on the board argued that the increase is necessary to fund capital improvements, like the purchase of the First Midwest Bank building which the county is considering eventually demolishing to make way for a new court house.

Paul Rafac, the county’s finance director, said the $900,000 would be covered by proposed new construction coming into Will County, but Moustis argued the tax increase would still be coming out of the pockets of all the county’s property owners.

“This is an additional tax for everyone, across the board,” Moustis said.

Board member Reed Bible (D-Plainfield) said the $10 annual increase amounts to a “meal at McDonalds.”

Moustis, however, said the board should not be dismissive about raising property taxes. Government, he added, is not “entitled to people’s money.”

Board member Denise Winfrey (D-Joliet), chairwoman of the county board’s capital improvement committee, disagreed that the increase was in any way frivolous spending, and said the money is clearly needed for necessary capital improvement projects. “It is a reasonable approach,” Winfrey said.

The county, according to Moustis, however, needs to look at other ways to fund projects, such as the user fee being proposed by Will County Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt to help pay for construction of the new courthouse. “Let the users pay,” Moustis said.

Winfrey said she agrees with looking at alternative funding methods, but added that the tax levy increase and the funding from alternative sources are both needed to keep projects moving forward.

County board member Margo McDermed (R-Mokena) said with the economy the way it is she would in no way support a tax increase.

“People are still leaving their homes,” she said. “People are fleeing Will County.”

The county, she said, has been a leader in keeping taxes low in Illinois. “We need to keep being a leader in Illinois,” McDermed said.

Board member Charles Maher (R-Naperville) said the county needs to take a close look at duplication of services and make cuts as opposed to raising taxes on property owners.

Will County board member Ragan Freitag (R-Wilmington) (center) said she could not support a tax levy increase with so many people out of work and struggling.

Board member Ragan Freitag (R-Wilmington) said there are still far too many people struggling, who are losing their jobs and homes.

“There’s no way on God’s green earth that I will support a tax increase,” Freitag said.

Wilhelmi said the tax levy increase only takes in new construction, which is expected to be $845,000, but could be higher.

Rafac said because new construction could come in higher, it was appropriate for the board to amend the levy increase to $900,000. While the board can at a later date decrease the amount, it cannot increase it.

Brooks said the amendment as proposed by Wilhelmi represent a very small increase.

“I do not feel that this small increase is a detriment to the homeowners of Will County,” Brooks said.

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