Understand taxes before you vote

In this season of municipal campaigning, the contentious issue of real estate taxes always arises. As an elected official not on any ballot this election, I want to clarify this often-misunderstood topic.

We do not vote on raising taxes on individual properties. We vote on the levy, which is the total dollars we want the county treasurer to collect from all property owners in the jurisdiction. The treasurer then allocates that total among the property owners in proportion to their assessed valuations which are determined by the township assessor, not the city or other local body. This process is conducted by each taxing body - city, school district, park district, etc.

If no new construction happens and the levy is raised, individual taxes will likely rise, depending on any changes in relative assessments by the assessor. But that situation is rare. New construction happens. The taxes on that new construction - new grocery store, new apartment building, new home that replaced a shack - can be added to the levy without affecting other property owners. The additional taxes, entirely from new construction, can help fund rising costs, particularly personnel costs that represent a large majority of the cost of operating cities, schools, park districts, and other units of government.

If the levy is not increased by the amount of taxes on new construction, that new tax revenue will serve to reduce the taxes on other properties, a laudable but unrealistic goal in view of slowly rising personnel costs. The only other solution is to close a fire station, increase class sizes, reduce library hours, and in other ways reduce services. I urge that suggestions for reducing costs be brought to your elected officials. We are listening. Meanwhile, be wary of the candidate who has "voted against raising taxes."

John K. Rutledge


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