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Bloomington City Council OKs tentative $27 million tax levy, proposes flat tax rate

Scott Rathbun
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington Finance Director Scott Rathbun addresses the Bloomington City Council during a recent meeting.

The Bloomington City Council approved a tentative $27 million combined tax levy on Monday, with plans to keep a flat tax rate of 1.4%.

While the council unanimously supported the bulk of the levy for the city’s budget, some members opposed the Bloomington Public Library's levy that will be used in part for an expansion project.

A Dec. 6 public hearing is planned for the proposed levies: $20.9 million for the city’s budget, and $6.1 million for the Bloomington Public Library. The council’s expected to vote on those Dec. 13.

Also at the meeting, held at Government Center downtown, the council discussed the city’s annual financial report as it related to an independent audit, and approved plans to replace the Miller Park Pavilion roof.

Rise in property values key

For the owner of a $165,000 home, the proposed levy would mean about $770 of their tax bill going toward the City of Bloomington and the library, said Scott Rathbun, Bloomington’s finance director.

About 43% of that tax levy is used for police and fire department funds, especially pensions, said Rathbun.

He told the council during its meeting Monday that a projected 2.25% increase in Bloomington’s equalized assessed value (EAV) means the city won’t have to raise the tax rate. But that final EAV and tax rate won’t be finalized until January, he added.

The projected EAV of Bloomington township property is about $1.9 billion, up $42.5 million over the 2020 figure. Rathbun said based on that, and with no tax rate increase, the city should capture about $275,000 in revenue growth, and the library about $50,000.

The BPL levy will go toward the library’s planned $22.8 million expansion that's been in the works more than a decade.

The project will be funded with about $17 million in general obligation bonds, and the rest with BPL reserves and fundraising. The library’s annual levy is its primary revenue source, according to council materials.

Originally proposed as a combined levy vote, the council opted Monday to separate the vote on the two levies, with the $20.9 million levy for the city gaining unanimous support.

Council votes 6-3 to OK library levy

The $6.1 million levy for BPL — which represents a 23% increase over last year’s figure, or about $30 more in taxes for the owner of a $165,000 home — didn’t see the same overwhelming support.

The 6-3 vote found Ward 2’s Donna Boelen, Ward 3’s Sheila Montney, and Ward 5’s Nick Becker casting “no” votes.

Becker said the city should focus more on cost cutting. The tentative tax levy for the library may be a small amount on a tax bill, but taxpayers find these adding up, he said.

“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘death by a thousand paper cuts?’” he asked.

But Ward 9’s Tom Crumpler, who voted “yes,” defended the library levy, saying the past decade has shown libraries need to keep pace with culture’s changing technology.

“We must ensure our public library is a 21st century facility — and that facility is equipped with the tools and resources to support the shifting needs of all the residents of this growing community,” he said.

Rathbun said the majority of real estate taxes fund education: 61% of the tax bill goes to the District 87 school district. About 13% is for the city, and 3% is for BPL. The remaining 23% provides tax revenue to the county, Heartland Community College, Central Illinois Regional Airport, Bloomington Township, and the water reclamation district.

Bloomington’s property tax revenue covers about 20% of its general funds, said Rathbun.

“One of the reasons why property taxes are so high in Illinois has to do with how our public education is funded overall,” noted Ward 4’s Julie Emig, adding these taxes also are related to how municipalities work to address long-neglected public pensions funds.

As for the levied amount for the library, Emig said it accounts for a tiny piece of the taxation conversation.

“There’s a larger context to think about,” she said.

Audit and city finances

Jason Coyle, of Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP, told the council Monday the city’s financial records are clean and correct, resulting in what’s known as an unmodified opinion.

The independent audit was related to the city’s comprehensive annual financial report that was finalized in October.

Coyle noted this year’s improvements included how Bloomington updated its utility billing system, and created better financial controls at Grossinger Motors Arena.

Later in the meeting, Rathbun told the council city finances continue to hold steady, giving credit to the influx of COVID-19 federal relief funding. He also noted the spillover effect of growth at Rivian in Normal, with the city seeing a bump in hotel tax revenue.

In other business

The council unanimously OK'd its consent agenda Monday, with no discussion. That means approving:

  • A spending limit of about $450,000 for rock salt. The city will buy the salt from Compass Minerals, Inc., at a rate of $64.65 per ton. 
  • The replacement of Miller Park Pavilion’s 25-year-old roof, for about $66,000. J&F Chiattello Construction will handle the project.
  • The annual fiscal report for the John M. Scott Health Care Trust. The nonprofit was awarded nearly $660,000 in community assistance in fiscal 2021.

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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