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updated: 9/25/2012 9:39 PM

Kane County committee OKs tax levy increase

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A Kane County Board committee Tuesday approved a plan that would increase property taxes while making the case that the new money is not needed to fund government employee raises.

However, board members said they could not detail exactly what the additional property tax dollars are needed for.

The plan would raise the county tax levy by the maximum allowed by the Consumer Price Index. That equals a levy increase of about 3 percent. The owner of a $250,000 home would pay about $12 more in property taxes to the county next year.

There are a wide variety of home values in the county. Estimates created by Mark Armstrong, the county's supervisor of assessments, show residents in Campton Township would see the largest increase in their property tax bills overall at about $13.62. Residents in Aurora Township, where home values are generally lower, would feel the smallest impact on their property tax bill with an increase of about $3.81.

The plan calls for 2 percent raises for all nonunion county employees. That comes at an estimated cost of $426,232 in the first year. Nonunion employees in the Kane County state's attorney's office and the public defender's office would also get pay increases. Those raises would cost about $629,485 in the first year. That's a total additional cost of $1,055,717 in the first year.

Finance and Budget Committee Chairman Jim Mitchell said the county can cover the entire cost of those raises by cutting the amount budgeted for contingency expenses. Board members are, perhaps, emboldened to move in that direction because the county board hasn't had to dip into contingency funds at all in the current budget until recent overtime costs for the sheriff's department.

There is also no money set aside in the budget to pay for union raises. The county is in contract negotiations with the majority of its unions.

With those moves, the county can fund raises without increasing the tax levy and local property taxes. But committee members voted Tuesday to go with the raise plan and still raise property taxes to capture all the possible tax money they could get.

Board members, however, could not detail for what they want that additional money. Mitchell said it's up to the new board that will be elected in November to decide if they need those added dollars.

If the money is not needed, the new board can vote in March to decrease the levy, eliminating the property tax increases.

By March, county officials would know the final tally of sales and income tax dollars collected for the current budget. Those numbers will give the county board a better picture of the 2013 budget and what expenses can be covered by sales and income taxes instead of property taxes.

Mitchell said the current board will talk more about the possible expenses facing the new board before the final vote on the plan. He could not provide any details of the expenses Tuesday.

"Some of those decisions are above my level," Mitchell said. "We don't know where we're at financially and what we need that money for. It's true that if we don't lower the levy in March, then we've raised taxes. But the new board is going to look at this levy. I know they will. This is their chance to be heroes and lower the levy."

But some board members are not willing to bet what a future county board will do, especially when they might not be a member of it.

Board member Cristina Castro said she won't vote for any increase in the levy, now or in March.

"When I talk to constituents they can't take another $5 (increase)," Castro said. "If we can do what we need to do using contingency funds without adjusting the levy, I think our constituents would appreciate that. I am totally opposed to raising the levy."

The debate now moves to the county board's Executive Committee. The full county board must approve the plan before it's finalized.

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