Maine Township property owners get $1.25 million tax break

Property owners in Maine Township are receiving a tiny tax break after the township board voted to abate $1.25 million in property taxes.

After months of infighting between board members over the upcoming tax levy and inflated reserves, the board voted 3-2 Wednesday to eliminate this year's request for general assistance tax dollars and reduce the town fund request by 10 percent.

Trustees Dave Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney voted in favor of the abatement while Supervisor Laura Morask and Trustee Kimberly Jones voted against it.

Spread out over thousands of property owners, the abatement amounts to nine cents per property on average, township officials said.

"One of the things we're trying to do is be an example of good government," Sweeney said. "Just because this doesn't amount to a lot of money for the average property owner doesn't mean we should have unfettered access. It shouldn't make us exempt from making wise decisions and hopefully it will give other governmental units in Illinois cause to look at themselves and what they have in reserve and what they could be saving their taxpayers."

McKenzie was the swing vote, having sided with Morask and Jones on other finance matters in the past, including recent budget amendments. McKenzie said her vote wasn't a change of heart. Instead, she wanted to learn how much should be abated before deciding.

The vote needed to happen before April 1 to affect the next round of property tax bills.

"I didn't really change my mind on anything," she said. "I have been researching this for weeks, but I really didn't make a decision until a week ago when I started getting clearer information about the use of our reserves for pension payments."

Initially Sweeney and Carrabotta had hoped to eliminate the general assistance levy this year and 30 percent of the town fund's levy, but McKenzie thought that was too deep of a cut. The abatement wound up eliminating $827,289 for general assistance taxes and $421,999 in taxes earmarked for the town's general fund.

The township's general assistance reserve fund was expected to end the recently completed 2018-2019 fiscal year with $2.8 million. Sweeney and Carrabotta have been complaining for months that the excess revenue puts it above a state threshold that limits reserves to no more than 2½ times the average annual spending from that fund over the previous three years, which is about $870,000.

The pair also have questioned how general assistance funds are being spent by the township. The majority of general assistance spending - about $700,000 of it annually - was going toward administration of the funds. Less than $200,000 annually was actually spent on assisting residents, according to the township's annual audits.

"This is an issue we've been wrestling with since Susan and I sat down as new trustees," Carrabotta said.

Township officials will send an abatement ordinance to Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough's office outlining the request to change the township's levies, according to township attorney Keri-Lyn Krafthefer.

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