Possible motive for 4-town merger push: Lowering property taxes
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the municipal and library tax rates for Lisle and Warrenville.
The attorney representing petitioners who want to merge Lisle, Warrenville and Woodridge with Naperville says the initiative is all about money.
Annexing the smaller communities to Naperville would allow the larger city to use economies of scale to reduce the property tax burden on residents, Frank Avila said.
The Chicago attorney said he still "is not authorized" to say who is behind the merger push.
"This is about making life more affordable," Avila said.
But mayors of the four communities say talk of lowering taxes is "smoke and mirrors" and those behind the proposal have a political motive, especially because of the "clandestine and haphazard" way the idea has come to the fore.
"People with serious issues bring it forward in a little more responsible manner, and this certainly was not done in a responsible manner," Warrenville Mayor David Brummel said. "I just don't think it's all about taxes."
Brummel, along with Lisle Mayor Joe Broda and Woodridge Mayor Gina Cunningham-Picek, filed objections Jan. 9 to a move by the unnamed petitioners to get a referendum question about annexation on the April 4 ballot. The question would ask, for example, "Shall the City of Warrenville be annexed into Naperville?" and it could let voters in the four communities decide if they want to stay independent or unite.
The deadline to get referendum questions certified to appear on the ballot passed Thursday without the DuPage Election Commission being directed to include the annexation query. But Avila said this case is governed by a different section of referendum law that comes with a deadline 45 days before the election, which would be in mid-February.
Avila said the people behind the annexation push - and those who signed petitions requesting the question be placed on the ballot - want to lower property taxes in Lisle, Warrenville and Woodridge.
"The homeowner is paying more taxes in these suburbs than they would if they were in Naperville," Avila said.
He said "the municipalities in question pay 2 to 2½ times, approximately, more taxes than Naperville."
But data from the DuPage County clerk's office indicates that isn't true.
According to information on 2015 taxes paid in 2016, the owner of a $300,000 house in Naperville paid $739.20 to cover city and library services. The municipal and library bill for the owner or a $300,000 house was higher in Warrenville at $1,241.70 and in Lisle at $947.30, but it was lower in Woodridge at $651.50, Clerk Paul Hinds said.
Comparing taxes can be tricky, mayors say, because each municipality provides services differently.
For example, Lisle, Woodridge and Warrenville have fire protection districts, which are separate taxing bodies from the municipalities. But Naperville has a fire department paid for by taxes collected by the city.
"Those districts would not go away if there was something changed with the boundary agreement," Broda said. "I can only address the village of Lisle's property tax bill."
If taxes are the issue, mayors say, they're open to talking about it - in detail, with real people. They called on whoever is behind the annexation petition to identify themselves and explain why they think merging would lower property taxes.
Otherwise, mayors say, a merger would be costly and complicated with far-reaching implications on other taxing bodies and the way services are delivered.
"Nobody has presented a reason for doing this," Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said. "If in fact (lowering property taxes) is the reason, then let's have a good public dialogue and discussion. Let's see some data to support it."
Meanwhile, Avila said the petitioners are questioning why the mayors want to prevent the merger from appearing on the ballot by questioning the legitimacy and number of signatures presented.
"Why do they want to object on a technical, legal ground instead of letting people decide?" Avila said. "If these municipalities are so secure in their position, then they should be confident that the referendum would fail and thus put the issue to rest."
A hearing scheduled for Feb. 8 in DuPage County court could determine whether the consolidation idea will make it to voters April 4.
"If this fails, this is a dry run," Avila said. "And it will be tried again."
For a representative $300,000 house in each of these communities. Naperville
Total property tax rate: 7.1563
Total property tax bill: $7,156.30
City of Naperville and Naperville library rate: 0.7392
City of Naperville and Naperville library bill: $739.20
Total property tax rate: 8.4155
Total property tax bill: $8,415
Village of Lisle and Lisle library rate: 0.9473
Village of Lisle and Lisle library bill: $947.30 Warrenville
Total property tax rate: 7.8670
Total property tax bill: $7,867
City of Warrenville and Warrenville library rate: 1.2417
City of Warrenville and Warrenville library bill: $1,241.70
Total property tax rate: 9.7946
Total property tax bill: $9,794.60
Village of Woodridge and Woodridge library rate: 0.6515
Village of Woodridge and Woodridge library bill: $651.50
Source: DuPage County Clerk 2015 tax rate booklet