McLean County lowers tax levy and approves a $127M budget
A partisan dispute over a $50,000 funding request to McLean County Extension nearly held up McLean County’s annual $127 million budget on Thursday.
The county board narrowly adopted the budget and a reduced property tax levy in one of the board’s final acts for more than one-third of its members.
The board also recognized seven departing board members during its regular monthly meeting.
The Extension board in August approved a 90% cut in its tax levy after several county board members told the board it was holding too much money in reserves. At the time, that amount was $2.7 million.
Extension, which is affiliated with the University of Illinois, provides agriculture and consumer education in McLean, Livingston and Woodford counties.
On Monday, county board member Val Laymon proposed the county increase its recommended Extension funding from $30,000 to $80,000 to cover the cost of running the annual 4-H fair at the Interstate Center grounds in Bloomington.
“This would be seen potentially as acting in good faith, right? (We’re) not going forward and restoring the full budget, but it would be putting out a hand,” Laymon said.
The proposal failed on a 10-10 vote. All 10 Democrats supported the amendment. All 10 Republicans voted no.
Catherine Metsker, who is one of three county board members who serves on its county extension committee, said the additional funding request incorrectly implies the Extension board lacks the money to run the fair.
“This is not a savings account for the Extension for my alma mater, which I am sad to say at this point, are hoarding McLean County money,” Metsker said.
The vote came after five people associated with Extension recommended during public comment the county “hold the line” on funding and suggested Extension first address concerns about management and volunteer and staff turnover.
Two others with Extension spoke in favor of the additional funding.
County board member Elizabeth Johnston noted Extension’s reserves are projected to fall to $1.4 million by the end of the budget year next June.
“They are spending down. They are using those reserves to shore up these programs,” Johnston said.
Previously, Extension officials said no programs would be reduced this year, but cuts are possible if the levy is not returned to previous levels.
After the amendment failed on the tie vote, the annual budget passed on an 11-9 vote. Josh Barnett, who recently switched parties, joined Republicans in approving the spending plan.
The county board approved a $40.6 million tax levy. That’s down $175,000 from the levy administration proposed in September.
The levy puts the property tax rate at $.91013 per $100 assessed valuation, down from the 2022 rate of $.91404. The county’s levy is still 6.3% higher than this year’s $38.2 million, but that accounts for an increase in taxable land values.
Seven board members chose not to seek reelection this year: Barnett, Hannah Beer, (Illinois House Rep.-elect) Sharon Chung, Ryan Lawler, Randy Martin, Gerald Thompson and Shayna Watchinski.
Despite the high turnover, the board will maintain an even split between Democrats and Republicans.
New board members who won election on Tuesday (Krystle Able, Jack Henry Abraham, Corey Beirne, Jeanne Biles, Adam Reeves, Natalie Roseman-Mendoza and Geoff Tompkins,) will be sworn in Dec. 5. A lottery will determine which candidates serve four-year terms and which will serve two-year terms as part of the county’s once-a-decade redistricting.
In other business, the county board:
- Approved a host agreement with Henson Disposal to build a solid waste transfer facility off Tri Lakes Road in south Bloomington. There’s currently only one transfer station in the county. Henson has argued adding a second transfer station would lower government costs in hauling waste by adding competition to the market. The host agreement calls for the Henson to pay the county $1 for each ton of waste collected and 50 cents for each ton of construction and demolition debris. Half of the fee would support recycling efforts in the county. Henson still needs regulatory approval to build the site.
- OK'd a new three-year McLean County Solid Waste Program agreement that includes the Ecology Action Center, the county, the City of Bloomington and the Town of Normal.
- Authorized a $2.2 million annual state appropriation in gas tax funds to pay for road and bridge maintenance, and approved the reconstruction of Horse Farm Road south of LeRoy, from Illinois Route 136 to the DeWitt County line. The $4 million project will be paid for with county and state funds.
- Approved a $328,000 reimbursement to Illinois State University to house students who needed to be quarantined or find alternative housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided the funding to the county.We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with NPR donors across the country – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.