McLean County Board OKs nearly $147M budget, $46M levy and flat tax rate
The McLean County Board on Thursday adopted a nearly $147 million budget, as well as a $46 million property tax levy with a flat tax rate.
This fiscal 2024 budget is nearly 16% higher than last year’s plan, and is built around the county’s 2023 levy bringing in about 13% more money than the 2022 figure.
Also Thursday, the board set aside nearly $3 million for its FY24 Motor Fuel Tax fund plans; OK'd spending almost $2 million of its current budget to fund a Downs road project; and approved a FY24 compensation plan for non-union employees.
Taylor: Flat tax rate norm for more than decade
Continued economic growth in the region has resulted in property values going up on the whole, said county administrator Cassy Taylor. Though equalized assessed values [EAV] vary from township to township, the average EAV increase for a McLean County property owner is 10.5% this year, she said.
For many taxpayers this will translate to an increase in the county portion of their tax bill. The increase will vary, depending on how a home might have been reassessed.
After Thursday's meeting Taylor offered an example to reporters: For the owner of a McLean County home that was valued at $165,000 in 2022, but which saw a 10.5% EAV increase, the county's portion of the next tax bill for that homeowner would be about $52 more than last year.
McLean County generally keeps its property tax rate flat, regardless of fluctuations in EAV, said Taylor. Today, that rate is just over 91 cents per $100 EAV. This means in some years, when the local economy isn't as strong as it is now, the county has to make cuts, — such as laying off employees and cutting back on services.
In recent years, the extra revenue is allowing McLean County to swing the pendulum the other way. The county's FY24 budget calls for catching up on facilities maintenance, and setting competitive wages to attract and retain employees, said Taylor.
Support for the county budget and five-year capital plan was almost unanimous among board members on Thursday. Only board member George Wendt [R-District 3], voted "no" on those. But the levy, while passing, had more detractors, in a 13-7 vote.
The annual budget is built on the assumption of that levy being being collected. “They go together,” said Taylor. So, had the levy not passed, it would have stalled the budget process.
Board member Chuck Erickson [R-District 10] was among those opposing the levy, but also voting in favor of the budget. He told the board he thought the levied amount — achieved through a flat tax rate — would put a hardship on taxpayers who this year often are facing higher assessments on their property. However, he also said he understands the need for a budget that provides pay raises for county staff.
"I'm conflicted because I don't want my message to be tonight that I am in opposition to those pay raises. ...Because I actually believe that they should be getting them," he said, adding he worried a vote for the levy would harm the morale of taxpayers.
Six other Republicans joined Erickson in voting "no" on the levy. They included both District 3 members, Wendt and Lyndsay Bloomfield; as well as Adam Reeves [District 1], William Friedrich [District 2], Randall Knapp [District 5], and District 7’s Geoff Tompkins.
Five people spoke against the levy and flat rate during public comments, urging the board to lower the tax rate to offset the higher taxes that often result from increased EAVs. Some shared concerns the upward climb of taxes would make people unable to afford their own homes.
McLean County Supervisor of Assessments Tim Jorczak also addressed the board, saying he'd been asked to come speak about the assessment process.
"This is not something that we take lightly. This is something that has been deliberated for months," said board vice chair Elizabeth Johnston [D-District 5], who voted in favor of the budget and levy.
The board has tried to find a balance between what taxpayers will be asked to bear, and what the county needs to function and thrive, she added.
Three board Republicans, and all 10 board Democrats, supported both the budget and levy.
Johnston said some of the repairs that had been put off for years because of tight budgets are in line to see improvements with the FY24 budget. Those include repairing the lagoon at Comlara Park, putting money into the McLean County Nursing Home, and boosting staff salaries.
When budget crunching meant the McLean County Jail couldn't be staffedbecause of difficulties recruiting and retaining staff, inmates were sent elsewhere. Those transfers ended up costing the county nearly $300,000.
In other cases, county staff have left to work for better wages in comparable private sector jobs.
"We do need to take care of our workforce. If we don't take care of our workforce, we don't have a workforce. And if we don't have a workforce, we don't have services. And at the heart of it, that is what we're here to do," said Johnston.
Taylor said some of the additional revenue collected with the higher levy will go toward that FY2024 compensation plan the board unanimously approved Thursday. The plan includes researched salary adjustments.
Member Susan Schafer [R-District 9] echoed Johnston's views. A 13-year board member, Schafer said she's seen the lean years — and the tough choices that result. In one year, the board had to make $1 million in cuts to work to keep that flat tax rate philosophy in place, she said. That meant cutting many jobs.
But Schafer said for McLean County to continue to be a strong county in Illinois, the investment needs to go back into staff and services — when the economy is good like this year.
Almost $3M in FY24 motor fuel tax funds set aside
Also at Thursday's meeting, the board set aside an estimated $2.8 million of Motor Fuel Tax funds to cover 2024 maintenance projects for the county highway system. Separately, it gave the green light to an already budgeted road project in Downs, funded with nearly $2 million of FY23 MFT funds.
The FY24 MFT appropriation will cover oil and chip work on roads, as well as shoulder maintenance, salt for winter weather, paint costs, and necessary repairs and replacements for signs and posts.
Even though the Downs project is part of the current budget, work won’t convene until next spring, Taylor said after the meeting. The improvements on Seminary Street will center on a stretch from Franklin Street to Illinois 150 — an area that hasn't been resurfaced in more than two decades, and today sees about 3,000 vehicles per day.
Revamped airport board gets first rural members
The Central Illinois Regional Airport Authority — formerly the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority — is getting its first members outside of the metropolitan area.
In August, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a law expanding the tax base for the airport by adding McLean County residents outside of the Twin Cities to the airport’s property tax rolls. The legislation was opposed by the county's rural mayors.
But with the law in place, on Thursday the county board OK’d the appointments of Gerald Thompson, of Colfax; Cathleen Weber, of Cooksville; and Jeff Martindale, of McLean to the authority. Their terms will be decided when the seven-member airport board's holds its next monthly meeting.
In other business, the board approved:
- Spending just over $1 million on a variety of vehicles and equipment, including tractors, dump trucks, and a boom mower.
- Increasing the daily private pay rates for the Mclean County Nursing Home. The $5 increase takes effect in February, making a semi-private room $245 per day, and a private room $262.
- A nearly $110,000 contract with Caliber Public Safety, for annual maintenance of the county's digital system management for jail and prosecutor programs, and criminal court and civil court cases.
- A $160,000 grant-funded agreement with the Center for Youth and Family Solutions to provide services, for juvenile offenders and high-risk youth.
- A contract for about $130,000 with CliftonLarsonAllan LLP, for auditing services.