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posted: 9/20/2012 5:30 AM

Kane County raises may be fueled by property tax increase

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For Kane County employees to get a pay raise, Kane County residents will have to pay more in property taxes.

A drop in the overall assessed valuation of property in Kane County means fewer property tax dollars will flow to the county if it keeps its levy flat. County board members have universally called for flat department budgets for the coming fiscal year that begins in December.

But a flat tax levy might actually mean the county would have to cut the budget if sales and income tax revenues also remain flat.

On Wednesday, members of the county board's Finance and Budget Committee were divided between going for a small levy increase, or the maximum 3.57 percent levy increase allowed. Many board members want to give all nonunion employees a 2 percent raise in the new fiscal year. Kane County State's Attorney and Public Defender employees are also clamoring for raises. And the county has already committed to several pay increases for some of its unions even as other union contracts remain in negotiation.

If the county board keeps that wish list intact, early estimates indicate they'll have to find approximately $2 million in new money.

The best bet to raise that cash is a combination of budgeting for fewer emergency funds and increasing the tax levy as much as possible.

A 3.57 percent increase in the tax levy would result in the owner of a $250,000 home paying about $12 more in property taxes to the county next year. Even the smallest levy increase on the table, about 1 percent, would raise property taxes for that same homeowner by about $3.

Board member Cathy Hurlbut is so far the leading champion of going for the highest levy possible. She said to do anything else is the equivalent of a store owner selling a candy bar for 90 cents when it really costs him a dollar.

"As a business person, to do anything (else) makes no business sense," Hurlbut said. "This is a business. We've got to levy the full amount."

But other board members not on the committee observing the discussion disagreed. Board member T.R. Smith said he's a definite "no" vote on any move that increases property taxes for his constituents.

"These guys spend too much time around county employees," Smith said, referring to some on the committee. "They need to talk to their constituents. They are talking about funding raises for employees. All I hear from my constituents is our employees should just be happy they have jobs. No one outside here is getting raises."

Committee Chairman Jim Mitchell said he thinks the board can find the money to fuel the raises. He said it's "unconscionable" to keep giving raises to union employees but give nothing to nonunion employees.

"If you look at $6 to $12 (property tax increase) per household, we hate to raise anything, but we did last year," Mitchell said. "And these people haven't had a raise in a while." He favors levying the maximum amount.

The committee will meet again Tuesday. Full revenue projections, includes sales and income taxes, should be available by then. The committee will use that information to decide what the county's tax levy recommendation will be to the full board. If the full board rejects the recommendation, the committee will have to go back to the drawing board.

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