With some lobbying by Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, local taxpayers Tuesday averted a small property tax increase by the Kane County Forest Preserve District for at least another 30 days.
Lauzen does not have a vote nor a seat at the table in forest preserve district decisions. However, while waving a dollar and a penny in his hands at the podium reserved for public comment, he made it clear he has been encouraging commissioners to vote down the proposed increase.
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"For one and a half (pennies) you can buy yourself a disproportionately large amount of goodwill for one more year," Lauzen said. "When folks vote for tax increases, those stay on their voting permanent record. It's just not something that I know all of us who consider ourselves fiscal conservatives want to go into the next election facing our constituents with."
The comments came as commissioners considered a 2014 budget that would raise the district's property tax levy by 1.7 percent. That increase would result in about $150,000 in new income for the district. The additional money would fund 2 percent raises for district staff and fuel projects like opening up the Brunner Preserve for broad public use. The impact to the owner of a home with a $225,000 market value would be an increase of 83 cents in the amount of property taxes paid to the district.
Several commissioners, including Forest Preserve District President John Hoscheit, suggested taxpayers already bought into the notion of needing more money for operations and staff salaries by approving the district's last four tax increase referendums. That money was used to buy land. Now the district must maintain it, Hoscheit said.
"I think we've been the only taxing entity to go back to the public and say, 'Do you like what we're doing? Do you want us to continue what we're doing,?' " Hoscheit said.
Other commissioners in favor of the tax increase, such as Phil Lewis, said a recent bond financing has already reduced the tax burden the district imposes on residents. And the retirement of two more bonds in 2016 and 2017 will erase another $88 off the average tax bill. Lewis said, because of that, he is more comfortable voting for the forest preserve district's 2014 budget than he will be when called upon to vote on the county's 2014 budget.
"Kane County is talking about a nearly $4 million increase in spending," Lewis said. "It's the largest increase in the last six or seven years. It's incredible. It's outrageous. I'm comfortable in my skin voting for this $150,000 increase."
The compromise may come in doing something else county board members (who also serve as forest preserve commissioners) have said they don't want to do -- use riverboat gambling money to balance the budget.
In recent years, the dwindling pool of gambling money flowing to the county has given rise to multiple comments from elected officials about the need to ween the county off that cash for ongoing operations. Using that money to balance out the forest preserve district's budget would increase the dependence on those dollars. Hoscheit said he is uncomfortable with that "hypocrisy." However, he might be open to the plan to bridge the gap between the current need for the additional $150,000 and the tax relief that will come following the retiring of bonds in 2016 and 2017.
Commissioners agreed to table the budget vote for 30 days to explore the riverboat gambling funds option.