Lake County voters to consider property, sales tax hikes
Besides a deluge of candidates to select from in municipal, school board and other local races, some Lake County voters also will have pocketbook questions to consider in the April 6 election.
Warren Township High School District 121 and the First Fire Protection District of Antioch Township are seeking property tax hikes. Deer Park wants to increase its municipal sales tax. And Lincolnshire residents will be asked if they favor the sale of recreational marijuana in the village.
Here's a recap of the four referendum questions on the ballot in Lake County.
District 121 tax rate
Over the past five years, Warren Township High School District 121 has eliminated 51 teachers and staff positions, refinanced debt, reduced the cost of employee benefits, taken other measures to cut costs and drawn down reserves to the lowest recommended level.
But it hasn't been enough. The district says it will need to trim $20 million over the next five years to balance its budget.
Without additional funding, school officials say, 46 more positions would be cut, the school day shortened, and student activities, clubs and athletic programs reduced or eliminated over the next three years.
Voters will be asked to approve adding 35 cents to the tax rate to raise about $7.75 million annually. That would amount to $295 more in annual property taxes for the owner of a home valued at $250,000.
The request was reduced from 60 cents based on community input and is a "a fair and reasonable proposition," according to school board President Paul Schulz.
The last successful tax hike referendum in District 121 was for 12 cents in 2001. Referendums in 2003 and 2007 were unsuccessful.
Information webinars are scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 9 and March 30.
Deer Park sales tax
Deer Park officials will ask voters to increase the municipal sales tax by half a percentage point for three years.
Village officials say they need the hike to make up for the decline in tax revenue during the pandemic. Officials say the village expects to collect about $2 million in sales taxes for the fiscal year ending April 30, down from $2.65 million in 2019.
Deer Park's overall sales tax rate is 7.5%, so the rate would increase to 8% for the three years before returning to the current rate, if voters approve the measure.
The increase would result in an additional 50 cents of tax for every $100 spent, which could net Deer Park an extra $700,000 annually, officials said.
This is the second time in three years Deer Park officials have sought to increase the sales tax rate. Voters approved a quarter percentage point bump in 2018. Deer Park does not levy a property tax.
If voters reject the new plan, spending cuts will be needed to avoid running a deficit, officials said.
The Antioch Fire Department is seeking voter approval for a property tax hike that would generate revenue officials say is badly needed to update aging infrastructure and increase staffing.
- Courtesy of Antioch Fire Department
Antioch Township fire tax
Voters again are being asked to approve a property tax increase for funds to repair aging facilities and increase staffing for an expected post-COVID return to a double-digit increase in calls for service.
"Our problems are still the same, if not worse," said Chief Jon Cokefair.
Voters will be asked to approve a property tax increase to raise nearly $1.8 million annually. If approved, the owner of a home valued at $250,000 would pay an additional $221 a year.
The same question narrowly failed a year ago.
"We get the fact people don't want to pay more taxes," Cokefair said. "I firmly believe this is important -- public safety is important."
Proceeds would be used to repair and update 1970s-era stations and hire staff -- not to build a fourth fire station as some believe, Cokefair emphasized.
"This is all manpower and fixing what we have," he said.
The district operates 24 hours from three stations using part-time and contracted employees. Cokefair said the nontraditional model doesn't require pension payments, so it is much less expensive to operate than other departments.
Why try again?
"We don't have a choice," Cokefair said. "We have to make our case and we'll continue to make our case if we're unsuccessful."
Advice on cannabis
The legal sale of marijuana for recreational use in Illinois began Jan. 1, 2020.
But like many other communities, Lincolnshire village officials opted out initially and planned to revisit the issue in a year or so.
As part of that process, voters will be asked whether the village should allow the sale of cannabis and its products at state-licensed dispensaries, subject to restrictions.
"I think the (village) board is just tying to be flexible, listen and get more input," said Mayor Liz Brandt. "We're back at that 'revisit' stage."
After more than a year in operation, information on aspects like the amount of revenue generated or impact on traffic, for example, is available to consider if the board chooses to do so, she added.
Village leaders want to hear from constituents first.
"Lincolnshire has never been a community that wants to tax just to raise revenue," Brandt said.
• Staff writer Eric Peterson contributed to this report.