Bypassing a property tax increase to residents, the Glen Ellyn village board on Tuesday instead moved to address a revenue crunch at the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Department with a flat fee on the village water bill.
The board voted 5-1 for a proposed property tax levy that would not contribute to the fire department.
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The fire company's revenue shortage has been on the horizon for some time, with the village moving to address it once and for all.
Donations have stagnated and fallen short of covering company costs. The company brought in $456,000 in revenue in 2012, but its projected operating budget came in at $684,000.
Trustee Diane McGinley didn't think hitting businesses with an $8,000 tax bill was the answer.
"I do not feel that is fair to our commercial properties. What they're going to do is pass it on to our residents," McGinley said. "The biggest thing I hear from residents is the tax burden is high enough. People are turning away from Glen Ellyn because of the taxes. We need to think of that."
A preliminary analysis by village officials concluded that the monthly rate increase to a water bill would come to about $8 for a single-family home, $5 for residents living in a multifamily unit and $12.50 for estimated commercial units.
Had the board chosen the property tax option, the owners of a $425,000 home would have seen an increase of roughly $100 on their annual tax bill.
An increase to the water bill could be structured a number of ways, according to village officials. A commercial rate could be established and tiered based on square footage. A residential rate could be established for a single-family versus multifamily with a rate per unit included to assess apartment complexes.
"I think by putting it in as a fee-based structure it forces future boards to take a hard look at budgets," McGinley said, "to make sure that before you increase things you have a rationale for doing so."
Trustee Tim O'Shea also supported funding the fire department on the flat-fee model, calling the fire department a "shared resource."
"I think by putting this on a bill, it's the most equitable way to maintain the capital needed without overbudgeting the commercial properties," O'Shea said.
A survey by village officials estimated that the village is saving $3 million to $3.5 million annually from what a full-time department would cost.
Trustee Tim Elliott, the lone vote against funding the fire company through the flat fee, cited the impact on lower-income residents as one of three factors behind his thought process. He said his research showed that virtually every municipality funds its fire department through property taxes.
"If we're going to break ranks we better have a compelling reason," he said.
"When you charge people fees on their water, that is by definition a regressive tax," Elliott said, "with a higher impact on lower-income residents. I don't like that idea."
Even without taxes funding the fire company, the village's tax levy still will increase by 2.6 percent.