Tax, pot referendums on Northwest suburban ballots
Binding decisions on taxes and services will be on the March 20 ballot in several Northwest suburban communities, while all Cook County voters will weigh in on an advisory referendum on the legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois.
Residents of Mount Prospect School District 57, the Bartlett and Prospect Heights fire protection districts and the village of Deer Park will head to the polls to decide on proposed hikes in either property or sales taxes.
Mount Prospect District 57
District 57 voters are being asked to approve an 85-cent increase in the tax rate to help the district afford the cost of its enrollment growth, rising operating costs and cuts in state and federal funding.
According to the district, a taxpayer with a homeowner's exemption could see an increase of about $153 per $100,000 of home value. A taxpayer with homeowner's and senior exemptions could see an increase of about $85 per $100,000, the district says.
If voters reject the request, district officials say they would be forced to cut about 30 employees over the next two years, resulting in class sizes of up to 40 students. All art, music, band and orchestra would be eliminated and the elementary school day would be shortened, according to district leaders.
School board President Joe Sonnefeldt said the cost of educating a student in District 57 and the district's tax rate are lower than those of neighboring districts.
Bartlett Fire District
The Bartlett Fire Protection District is asking voters for a 21 percent increase to its property tax levy -- expected to raise the average homeowner's annual payment to the district from $469 to $569.
The increase is aimed at keeping services at their current level and avoid the staffing cuts Fire Chief Michael Falese recommended after voters rejected a similar request in April.
Falese said the district's calls are increasing annually -- up to about 4,000 per year -- but its tax revenue has increased only 3 percent over the past eight years.
Prospect Heights Fire District
Going to the voters for the first time since 2003, the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District is seeking permission to exceed the tax cap and collect about $11.49 more per year for every $100,000 of home value.
For the typical $300,000 home in the district, this would be just over $30 more in taxes per year, district board President Jon Tammen said.
The district's goal is to restore service levels to what they were before the 2008 recession took its toll on its always balanced budget, Tammen said.
"We've been grappling with this for quite a while," he said. "We're losing a lot of money. We had to cut people. We're not running a deficit."
Fire Chief Drew Smith said voter approval should bring the district about another $150,000 per year, enough to staff the vehicles at the same level they were at in 2013.
"We're purposely asking for what we feel is a very low amount," Smith said.
Deer Park sales tax
Deer Park residents will be asked if the village's portion of the sales tax rate should increase by a quarter percentage point, to a half percent. That would bring the overall sales tax rate in town to 7.5 percent.
If approved, it could raise an additional $400,000 annually for infrastructure projects. Stormwater drainage improvements and street resurfacing are among the priorities, Mayor Dale Sands said.
"We completed our first villagewide stormwater assessment in 2017 and identified over 50 projects for completion," Sands said.
With Deer Park Town Center attracting many popular businesses and shoppers along Rand Road, it's expected that visitors would be paying a large amount of the increased tax.
Deer Park voters approved an identical sales tax increase in 2010.
Legalization of marijuana
The advisory question every Cook County voter will see reads, "Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?"
Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle is supporting the referendum. She recently testified that legalizing and taxing marijuana would allow local governments to better fund social safety net programs, including rehabilitation for chronic drug addicts.
"We cannot afford to let long-standing stereotypes about who uses marijuana and why prevent us from finding common-sense solutions on behalf of our residents," Preckwinkle said in prepared remarks before a panel. "The time to legalize personal use of marijuana has come."
• Daily Herald staff writers Russell Lissau and Steve Zalusky contributed to this report.