Elgin's 2016 budget includes property tax hike
Elgin next year will increase its property tax levies for pension and debt payments but will keep its general fund property tax levy flat and not increase water and sewer fees.
The city council approved the 2016 budget on Wednesday night in a 8-1 vote after weeks of deliberation. Councilman John Prigge cast the only "no" vote.
Elgin residents who live in Kane County will see an average $120 increase on their property tax bills; those who live in the Cook County portion will see an average increase of $84, city officials said.
Residents also will pay an additional $18 in 2016 for refuse fees as per the city's contract with Waste Management, whose costs are directly passed onto residents.
"I think people understand the constraints we are working under," Councilwoman Tish Powell said.
Mayor David Kaptain praised the council for reaching a consensus. "Staff did a tremendous job. They put in a tremendous amount of time to make this budget work," he said.
The total budget amounts to just more than $288 million in expenses -- or about $2.3 million less than the 2015 budget -- and nearly $315 million in revenues. The general fund budget, which pays for the city's day-to-day operations, is balanced at nearly $120.7 million. Including 2016, the general fund levy has decreased or stayed flat for the last five years.
Budget discussions in November and December took place in a climate of fiscal uncertainty, as the state since July had withheld almost $7 million from the city in gasoline taxes, gambling taxes and emergency telephone system funds. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation Dec. 7 that will release that money owed to counties and municipalities.
Still, there is the looming prospect of a property tax freeze and a reduction of municipalities' share of income taxes, which Elgin officials fear will heavily affect the 2017 budget and beyond.
To that end, Kaptain proposed that, beginning in 2017, the city move $2.5 million from the general fund into a special fund to start weaning Elgin from relying on state money for day-to-day operations, which largely amount to public safety.
"To protect the core services that we provide for this community, we have to start making some contingency plans," he said.
Councilman Rich Dunne agreed. "We have to stop being dependent on the state of Illinois and allowing the state of Illinois to dictate to us our financial security and our financial future."
But Councilman Toby Shaw cautioned that might be difficult. "That's like my son coming to me and saying, 'Dad I can make it on my own and I'm only 12 years old.'"
A better idea, Shaw said, might be to cut $2.5 million from the budget starting in 2017. Prigge, who had advocated cutting expenses in 2016, agreed.
But Kaptain said that wouldn't be necessary until funds are actually cut by the state.
City staff members initially had proposed increasing the 2016 property tax levy -- partially as a way to hedge against a future property tax freeze -- as well as water and sewer fees, but council members favored the alternative budget approved Wednesday.
Under the original proposed budget, homeowners would have paid another $56 on average per year, on top of the increases ultimately approved by the council.
Next year's budget includes a supplemental $1 million for public safety pension funds, $15 million in bonds for street improvements and $10 million in bonds for water and sewer improvements. The city council will take a look at the list of proposed street work in January.