Property tax levels have become an issue in the race for the Mount Prospect village board: Some candidates say the village hasn't been sensitive enough to residents' pocketbooks, while others say the village has done well providing core services at a low cost.
Six candidates -- three incumbents and three challengers -- are running for three 4-year seats on the board. The election is April 9.
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Two of the challengers have criticized the village for raising property tax levies by roughly 4 percent in each of the past two years.
"The village has to start being more cognizant of the pressure that taxes are putting on the homeowners," said John Dyslin, a residential property tax analyst for the Cook County Board of Review running for his first elected office.
Dyslin said the levy increases have resulted in the village's portion of the property tax bill jumping by as much as $80 to $175 for some residents.
"Seniors on fixed incomes are being hit particularly hard," he said. "I've heard that some have thought of selling their homes because they can't afford the taxes."
Carl Arriaza, owner of a small information technology business and running for his first elected office, said the village has to get more creative and stringent with its budgeting to keep tax levies from jumping year after year.
He cited expenses related to putting videos of village meetings on line, and costs associated with village membership in civic groups.
"The board needs to do a better job of evaluating all its expenses," Arriaza said. "Have they looked at putting the meetings on YouTube, for example? The residents have to live within their means, so the village should, too."
Kevin Grouwinkel, a former Mount Prospect Public Library trustee now running for village trustee, said he believes the village has done a good job holding the line on property taxes.
Grouwinkel pointed to the drastic reductions in spending the village approved in 2010, a year that saw more than 30 staff positions cut. While the budget has risen since then, it remains lean, he said.
"The village made some hard decisions, and I think it remains at the limit of what it can cut without seriously impacting services," Grouwinkel said. "And I'd note that the village's portion of everyone's tax bill is relatively small. Look at the schools to see what's really driving things."
The three incumbents in the race -- Michael Zadel, Steven Polit and John Matuszak -- agree with Grouwinkel.
Polit, running for his second full term on the board, said that for an owner of a home with a total property tax bill of $7,000, the village's portion has gone up by a total of about $100 combined for the last four years.
"The village has done a good job keeping our levies and spending levels relatively consistent," he said. "And that's even despite the rising costs of things we have no control over, like pensions and unfunded mandates."
Zadel, running for a fourth term, said the village works with "maintenance" budgets -- budgets that allow for core services to be provided and little else.
"I don't see any fluff there, anything that we could cut that would result in a big drop in our tax levy," he said. "But even just to deliver those basics, costs go up."
Matuszak, running for his second term, said fiscal discipline is a key priority for him, and he believes the village has displayed it.
"It's not something we've taken for granted," he said. "We look at our budgets closely every year to see if we can find more efficiencies. The police department works to keep overtime down -- it happens in all departments.
"This is a nice community, and I think people are generally happy with the services they get. If you take a look at our spending, we've managed to provide those at a reasonable cost."