Griffin: Some residents taxed twice for sheriff patrols
Taxpayers living in the unincorporated parts of Bloomingdale, Wayne and York townships in DuPage County are on the hook for an extra $108,000 per township next year to pay for special patrols by DuPage County sheriff's deputies.
Property owners in unincorporated Milton Township, with its three special sheriff's patrols, will have to pony up more than $322,000 in 2015.
That's a 60 percent spike from the roughly $66,000 per deputy -- one deputy each for Bloomingdale, Wayne and York townships, and three for Milton -- it was costing just two years ago, according to county finance records. By 2018, the cost is expected to be almost $125,000 a year for each deputy.
The county board set the price increase in 2012 after learning the six deputies devoted almost all of their work hours to patrolling the unincorporated areas of those townships but almost half their costs were being subsidized by all the county's taxpayers. The new rates reflect an 80 percent to 20 percent split, with township taxpayers picking up the larger chunk.
"Some people, like me, think the townships should be paying 100 percent," said DuPage County Board member Grant Eckhoff.
The money goes to add a police presence over and above what the sheriff's department otherwise would provide. The price hikes have some township officials not only wondering how they're going to afford it but whether the patrols are necessary.
Wayne Township Supervisor Tom Arends issued 1,600 surveys to unincorporated residents asking them if they'd support a "modest" 52 percent hike to the special tax levy that pays for the patrols.
"We've gotten about 350 responses back and it's been pretty close so far where the 'no' votes are outweighing 'yes,'" Arends said. "If I believed (these patrols) were necessary, I would not have done the survey. The board has the ability to raise the rates without consulting residents."
Officials in both Bloomingdale and York townships are struggling with the additional costs and tried to hold the line on spending by reducing the number of hours of special sheriff's patrols this year.
But Milton Township Supervisor Chris Heidorn said it's worth the cost.
"Our board decided to bite the bullet and pay it," he said. "We rely heavily on them, especially during the winter time. Our residents like having the special patrols and the attention given."
The taxes that support these patrols come from voter-approved measures more than two decades old. Some critics called the program antiquated and burdensome to property owners.
"First off, it's a double charge because these taxpayers are already helping to pay for the sheriff's patrol division," said Paul Fichtner, chairman of the DuPage County Board's finance committee. "It appears outdated, too, because these agreements were made prior to mutual aid agreements between municipal police departments and the county." Under those agreements, officers from nearby towns would respond to an emergency in an unincorporated area.
DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba employs 355 deputies, 108 of whom are devoted to the patrol division, according to county records. Those patrol deputies are responsible for more than 400 miles of roads in unincorporated areas. The sheriff's office did not respond to calls seeking comment about the special patrol program.
Township officials said a benefit of the special patrol program is they get to dictate what areas receive attention.
"The regular patrols have their routes, but these patrols are directed by us," said Bloomingdale Township Supervisor Ed Levato.
Eckhoff said if the special patrols went away, so would six open positions in the sheriff's office.
"Nobody will be laid off," he said.
Once the county board began looking into the fees being charged to townships, they determined townships were only being charged for the deputies' salaries, Fichtner said. Going forward, the costs will include benefits, pension obligations and vehicle overhead, county officials said.
The costs for the special patrols are spread among 8,748 property owners in Milton Township, more than 4,000 in both Bloomingdale and York townships, but just 2,207 in Wayne Township. The owner of a $300,000 home in Wayne Township now pays roughly $43 a year for the patrols. According to the survey, that same property owner would pay roughly $66 a year under the new taxing structure.
"I would be in favor because it's always good to have as much security as possible," said Tom Niketopoulos, who lives in an unincorporated area near West Chicago.
Arends said he expects the board would abide by the outcome of the nonbinding survey, but he is hoping for an overwhelming majority one way or the other. He hopes to have a final tally by the end of the month to present an opinion to the board for its November meeting.
"Right now, it's my worst nightmare because it's so close," he said. "We want to honor the survey, but we want clear guidance."
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Patrol taxThe average annual cost of six special sheriff's patrols is skyrocketing for some DuPage County townships whose voters approved the program.