In a showdown between Democrats and Republicans, the Will County Board voted Thursday to increase the property tax levy by $900,000.
The increase will cost the owner of a home with a $200,000 market value about $3 more a year for the Will County government portion of the tax bill. The additional money will be used for capital projects.
The vote was 12 to 12 along party lines, with Democrats favoring the higher levy and Republicans opposed. Members Tom Weigel (R-New Lenox) passed on voting and Ken Harris (D-Bolingbrook) was absent.
Though he bucked the GOP line and said he was in favor of the increase, by passing his vote Weigel forced County Executive Larry Walsh, a Democrat, to cast a rare tie-breaking vote in favor of the higher levy, which is the amount the county expects to raise via the property tax.
Board member Steve Wilhelmi (D-Joliet), who chairs the finance committee, said the board has held the line on the levy for four years because of the recession, but it was time to increase it to fund infrastructure projects.
The $900,000 has been tentatively earmarked to pay for extending Joliet sewer and water service to land the county owns at Illinois 52 and Laraway Road. The county plans to build a law enforcement hub there, but the county board has final say on the budget and how revenue will be used. The budget vote comes next month.
Thursday’s action increases the levy for the corporate fund, the county’s main operating fund, to $112.8 million, a 1.4 percent increase from the previous levy. The amount could be lowered in November and again in March but cannot go higher.
Proponents of the higher levy said it’s smart to take advantage of new construction that was added to the tax rolls since the last assessment cycle. The levy increase guarantees that the county will get more money without its tax rate going up.
However, the rate also doesn’t go down, stressed board member Jim Moustis (R-Frankfort Square), the leader of the board’s GOP caucus. And homeowners who have seen their home value rise more than others will pay a bigger share of the levy hike, he said.
The original tax levy resolution called for a $1.9 million increase to mirror a rise in the consumer price index, but Wilhelmi amended his resolution to the lower amount. As a result, there will be no money in the 2014 county budget for overtime pay, finance director Paul Rafac said.
Board member Reed Bible (D-Plainfield) said the levy increase would fund infrastructure improvements for “basically for the cost of a meal at McDonald’s.” But Lee Ann Goodson (R-Plainfield) said the county government is one of 16 or so taxing bodies in the county, and if all of the increases are added together, “It’s more like a steak at Gibson’s.”
Moustis said the county’s sales tax and landfill revenues are growing and he would rather rely on that income than increasing the tax levy.
Board member Don Moran (D-Romeoville) said he, too, is not a fan of raising taxes, but also said “I’m also a realist.”
With costs going up, the county has to increase taxes or make drastic cuts — otherwise it could wind up in the kind of serious financial trouble that the state of Illinois is in, Moran said.
Other Republicans cited high unemployment and foreclosure rates in Will County as reasons to keep the levy low. The Democrats cited capital projects that are needed to keep up with a growing population and an aging infrastructure.
Everyone knew the vote would be close, so much so that Republicans urged Chuck Maher (R-Naperville) to get to the meeting even though he was sick. He arrived 45 minutes late but in time for the vote. Maher’s trip was for naught, however, because of Weigel’s pass vote.
“I’m sure they’re not happy,” Weigel said of his fellow Republicans. “They wanted everybody to vote against it.”