Mundelein officials freeze tax levy, but spending cuts may be needed
Now that Mundelein trustees have opted not to increase taxes in 2016, officials must figure out if spending cuts are needed.
They're not happy about it, either. Trustee Kerston Russell said the same people who urged him not to raise taxes should now expect decreased municipal services.
That could mean bumpy roads don't get fixed, downed tree limbs aren't collected promptly after storms and snowy roads aren't plowed quickly, Russell said.
"Everybody said to me, 'I don't want to pay more taxes.' And my response is, 'Suck it up,'" Russell said during the board's Dec. 14 debate. "Don't come to me and complain when you don't get everything you want."
Mundelein will collect an estimated $11.9 million in property taxes next year, the same amount collected in each of the last four years. The levy is higher on paper, but trustees also voted to abate about $1.4 million in taxes that would have gone to a bond fund.
The board was expected to vote on an estimated $12.3 million net levy, a proposed 3.6-percent increase that would have raised taxes to the village for most homeowners.
But a four-member board majority opposed the tax increase. Joining Russell in opposition were trustees Dawn Abernathy, Dakotah Norton and Bill Rekus.
With the proposed tax increase in the trash, the board instead voted 5-2 to approve a flat levy. Trustee Holly Kim joined the majority, while Trustee Ray Semple and Mayor Steve Lentz cast the two "no" votes.
Officials next month will begin planning the budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which starts May 1. Public budget discussions typically occur in April.
Because the village now is set to collect about $469,000 less in property-tax revenue in 2016 than originally planned, officials will need to deal with that shortfall in the budget.
Village Administrator John Lobaito predicted balancing the next budget "will be a challenge."
Taking money from savings to cover salaries and services is one option. Cutting spending is another.
Lentz strongly opposes dipping into savings to cover rising costs.
"We've seen Springfield do that and we've seen the feds do that year after year, decade after decade, and look where we are," he said.
Abernathy believes spending cuts can be made that won't affect public services. Some projects -- such as beautification efforts at village entryways -- may have to be postponed, she said.
"Let's just be a little smarter," Abernathy said.
In addition to service cuts, Russell suggested freezing salaries for a year.
Norton suggested cutting back on public safety services, saying "it's not a huge sacrifice" if the village slips on some rankings of safest communities.
Although she voted for the flat levy, Kim fears the tax freeze will be detrimental. The village already has been running lean, thanks to the prior freezes, she said.
"I firmly believe we are at a point where cutting further isn't trimming the fat but cutting into our muscle," she said.
The flat levy doesn't mean residents' overall tax bills won't increase. Home values could rise or other government agencies could increase their portions of tax bills.