How much is your township road district taxing per mile?
Even as Naperville Township officials were touting consolidation efforts to lower property taxes for residents, the road district was collecting more taxes than ever before.
With just 16.1 miles under the jurisdiction of the Naperville Township Road District, property owners went from paying $53,716 per mile in taxes in 2016 to $65,608 the following year. That's a 22.1 percent increase. By 2018, the rate would jump 9.7 percent more to $71,946 per mile, according to the township's annual audits.
Most of the people responsible for those tax hikes were voted out of office in 2017, and a plan to consolidate with Lisle Township's road district has stalled. Naperville Township's new highway commissioner, Richard Novinger, said he's made some minor cuts to the tax levy and kept a staff position vacant to help lower costs.
"I've had to reduce a little bit of service and I'm out in the field a lot more, but I'm not about to hit taxpayers with a huge increase," Novinger said.
Among 47 suburban township road districts, Naperville Township's property tax growth for its road funds was the largest, according to a Daily Herald analysis of township audits for the fiscal years 2016 and 2017 -- the most recent years available for all townships. Only seven townships reduced reliance on property taxes during that time, the analysis shows. Barrington Township in Cook County and DuPage Township in Will County do not levy property taxes for roads. Virgil Township in Kane County did not have a 2016 audit available.
Combined, the 47 townships are responsible for nearly 1,700 centerline miles of road, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Centerline miles measure the length of the road without considering the number of lanes.
Leyden Township in the Rosemont area near O'Hare International Airport had the highest per-mile tax cost to property owners in 2017 at $105,609. Township officials did not respond to calls for comment about the distinction, but factors that can raise costs are number of lanes, amount of traffic, use by a lot of trucks, and curbs and gutters.
Road districts do more than patch and repave streets, say highway commissioners, most of whom are elected. Tree trimming, culvert work, salting and snowplowing contribute to costs.
"It's not just roads," said Vernon Township Highway Commissioner Michael Lofstrom.
Lofstrom is responsible for 13.1 miles of unincorporated Lake County road, which cost his taxpayers $88,307 per mile in 2017, the second-highest rate among the 47 townships. But that was before Lofstrom was elected.
"I came in as a management person," he said. "We've streamlined costs and are keeping an eye on all of our expenses much better. I've also cut the tax levy by 10 percent for the 2019 fiscal year."
Despite his efforts, voters will decide in November whether to eliminate his position.
"I just believe you get better service this way," Lofstrom said, defending his post.
Wheeling Township voters eliminated the position in 2016. A road district manager who reports to the township board now oversees the township's 5.2 miles of road. Taxpayers spent $79,508 per mile in fiscal year 2017, the last year property taxes were levied under an elected highway commissioner. According to a recently completed fiscal year 2018 audit, Wheeling Township taxpayers spent $69,948 this year, a 12 percent reduction in cost.
Many highway commissioners say residents want increased services.
In Will County's Wheatland Township, which covers southwestern Naperville, Highway Commissioner Bill Alstrom said that before he took over the post in 2014, road district crews spent most of their time on brush pickup.
"Now, 50 percent of everything we do is related to ditch and drainage construction," he said.
"We're close to having nine to 10 miles of underground storm sewer construction and installation to get rid of standing water in ditches, which was what the majority of our calls were for."
But that also came with a hefty price tag. From 2016 to 2017, the Wheatland road district collected almost $200,000 more in property taxes, a 17.1 percent spike. Still, Wheatland property owners paid just $33,505 per mile in property taxes, which is less than more than 60 percent of the other townships, according to the analysis.
Alstrom said because he added manpower this year, the district's levy rose again in 2018.
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