Bloomington council OKs more than $28M in combined property tax levies; up 7% from last year
The Bloomington City Council on Monday increased its combined property tax levies to about $28.6 million, an estimated 7% increase over last year’s figure.
Approved with a single vote, the levies combine $22.3 million for the city’s budget, and nearly $6.3 million for the Bloomington Public Library.
The property tax rate is expected to remain flat, which combined is $1.38 cents per $100 dollars of equalized assessed value (EAV).
The city will use the extra $1.4 million in tax revenue to continue inching toward fully funding its police and fire pensions — a state requirement by 2040. BPL’s roughly $400,000 increase goes to to its operating budget, and for extra costs associated with the ongoing renovation of the Olive Street facility.
In the 5-3 vote, Ward 1’s Grant Walch, Ward 3’s Sheila Montney, and Ward 5’s Nick Becker voted “no,” opposing a levy increase as the best vehicle for adding to the pension funds. Ward 4’s Julie Emig was absent; she’s on medical leave.
Also at Monday’s meeting, at the downtown Government Center, Public Works Director Kevin Kothe led an annual presentation about road projects.
Board split on increasing tax levy for pensions
City Manager Tim Gleason, who attended remotely, noted for a Bloomington property owner’s tax bill, only about 15% goes to the city and library. Other taxing bodies, including a taxpayer’s public school district, get most of the property tax revenue.
Increasing the city's portion of the 2022 levy allows Bloomington to capture growth in a year that has seen new property in the city, and many existing properties reassessed at higher values, he said.
While the council agreed the city must invest in police and fire pensions, the 5-3 vote reflects differing opinions on which revenue source should be used for that purpose.
Ward 7’s Mollie Ward and Ward 8’s Jeff Crabill argued Monday in favor of the levy.
"It's not about too much taxes. It's about what services are received for the taxes paid," said Crabill, adding increasing funding for pensions is among the council's main goals.
Ward said police and fire professionals put their lives on the line for Bloomington, so the city has an obligation to be faithful to them.
She said she'd also be voting for the tax levy increase because the city has work to do. It is work that matters, and work that costs money, she said, adding, "The city is not immune from inflation."
Council members who voted against the levy voiced support to fund police and fire pensions. But the trio wanted to use reserves, and alternative revenue streams such as cannabis and online sales taxes.
"This is being portrayed that those who are against this (levy increase), seem to be against first responders, and that's wrong," said Walch, adding he took great offense to that.
"We as a council will support the pensions for our first responders" regardless of whether it comes from levy revenue or not, added Ward 5's Becker. He said the city needs to become more efficient, rather than spend more in addressing its budget needs.
Answering Walch's question about whether the levy was the only option for pension funding, Bloomington Finance Director Scott Rathbun said, "We've been utilizing our utility reserve over the last couple of years, and that currently is depleted."
Using the levy to fund the pension liability provides the city flexibility to use other revenue sources for road projects, and to prepare for expected inflation effects, he said.
Rathbun said last year was an anomaly, with higher than usual amounts sent to reserves. He attributed that to federal COVID-relief. He said inflation has meant more tax revenue for Bloomington. But the city also will need to spend more.
"Looking at the revenues (now), it looks like we're going to add to reserves. But, I still think inflation's going to come back and hit us hard," he said.
Crabill said he disagreed with people who say Bloomington should, like Normal, opt to keep a flat property tax levy and lower its property tax rates.
After all, he said Bloomington and Normal's finances are different: Bloomington has just $36 million of its $122 million operating budget in reserves — less than a third, said Crabill. Meanwhile, he said, Normal has $51 million, in reserves of its $77 million budget, or more than two-thirds.
With Monday’s vote, the city’s property tax levy is up about 7% since last year, while BPL’s is 6.7% higher. A public hearing for each increase was held Dec. 5.
BPL Director Jeanne Hamilton told the council for its increased levy, BPL’s growing operating budget will take about $167,000, while the expansion gets about $235,000.
Also Monday, the council OK’d a tax abatement for about $7.3 million in debt service, and rent for the Old Champion Federal Building, and expansion of its parking garage.
Bloomington road projects
Monday’s meeting wrapped up with Kothe leading his annual presentation about the city’s roadwork projects.
In it, he shared videos and photos of city workers completing steps to resurface streets. One showed milling, and old street surfaces being hauled off, and pavers laying asphalt, and then rollers pressing it down.
He noted the team’s work goes beyond road repair, and includes inlet and manhole adjustments, curb and sidewalk work, including bringing sidewalks into compliance with the Americans With Disability Act.
Kothe shared a map that detailed FY2022 resurfacing work completed over the summer, and FY23 work set to begin in the spring.
The city posts online a variety of information about public works’ projects, he said, highlighting an interactive map. Residents also can sign up for text or email updates about projects, Kothe said.
In other business, the council:
- Renewed an intergovernmental agreement with the Ecology Action Center for a program to reduce waste, and boost recycling. McLean County, Normal and Bloomington split the estimated annual cost of $150,000.
- Renewed the city’s annual subscription to its human resources software Kronos, for about $115,000.
- Approved a special-use permit for Habitat for Humanity of McLean County to create a two-family dwelling in the 1300 block of Bunn Street, which is a single-family residence zone.
Crabill noted the project helps address a lack of housing in the area, and that the local Habitat chapter plans to share the duplex example at an international convention.