Kane County forest district tries to balance COVID-19 losses with economy in new levy

 
 
Updated 10/2/2020 4:59 PM

Tax bills payable to the Kane County Forest Preserve District will go down for the fifth straight year -- though not as much as they could -- as commissioners seek a balance between the impact of a down economy on taxpayers and their own COVID-19 income losses.

In preliminary votes Friday and the week before, district commissioners approved a plan to raise the tax levy by the maximum amount without going to a referendum. That means an increase based on the consumer price index of 2.3% and setting the levy to capture any new construction that wasn't on the tax roll the year previous. Doing so would bring in about $245,000 in new money to the district.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Commissioners have the option of taking just the index increase, just the new construction increase, or neither.

Despite the pending maximum increase, the tax bill due to the district for the average taxpayer would decrease. For the owner of a $233,000 home, the tax bill would be $105. That's down from the most recent 2019-20 bill of $111. And it's about half as much as the $211 the average taxpayer paid the distinct in 2015-16.

How can commissioners raise the levy by the maximum amount and still send lower tax bills to residents? That can happen because the district has been either retiring or refinancing chunks of its debt in recent years, decreasing that portion of the tax levy. However, by taking both the index and new construction into the levy, commissioners are preventing local tax bills from decreasing by even more -- about $1.04 for the average taxpayer.

Finance committee Chairman Mark Davoust said he understands that's a tough sell in an economy beat down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The only reason we would do this is because we are still shrinking our portion of the tax bill even with the levy increase," Davoust said in an interview. "That tax bill will still be half of what it was five years ago."

Monica Meyers, the executive director of the district, pointed out during the committee meetings that the tax bill shrinking is an achievement the commissioners should be proud of because the size of local preserves has nearly tripled over the last 20 years. Landholdings stood at about 8,600 acres in the early 2000s. The district currently manages almost 23,000 acres.

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"We've been very efficient," Meyers told commissioners. "But if we want to continue to open up preserves, our operating costs are going to increase, and we are not keeping up with that pace."

The commissioners' decision is also driven by the district's own pending COVID-19 income losses. The Fox Valley Ice Arena was closed for business. Golf courses continued to operate but without, perhaps, the same participation they would normally receive. And the Kane County Cougars did not play any revenue-generating games this season. The team survived MLB's slashing of minor league franchises, but it's not clear whether a second round of cuts will come next season.

The full commission will take a final vote on the plan Oct. 13.

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