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Normal Nixes Proposed Property Tax Hike

Stan Nord speaking at Normal Town Council
Eric Stock
Normal Town Council member Stan Nord said keeping property tax level could be a marketing tool for economic development.

The Normal Town Council on Monday narrowly approved a draft proposal that would keep the property tax levy flat for next year after several members said they could support a one-year hiatus from accelerated payments to fully fund the town’s police and fire pensions by 2040.
Mayor Chris Koos and council member Kathleen Lorenz proposed the town scale back the higher pension payments for one year to bring the proposed $13.6 million levy closer to the current levy, which stands at just under $13 million.

“I don’t see this – and I think other council members are the same – as a long-term solution,” Koos said. “I see it as a one-year opportunity to do this.”

Town staff had proposed the council raise the levy nearly 5%, largely to cover state-mandated increases in the contribution to the pension fund for town workers.

Council member Stan Nord asked the town go a step further and bring the levy down to last year’s level, by cutting an additional $96,000 from the town’s operating budget. He said it would generate positive publicity for the town that could help it attract economic development.

“People are moving out of the state,” Nord said. “Anything we can do to bring us good press would be great.”

Town finance director Andrew Huhn explained keeping the tax levy equal would likely lead to a drop in the tax rate, noting the county projects a 1.25% increase in taxable land values this year.

The amendment would lower the town’s tax rate from $1.47 per $100 Equalized Assessed Valuation (EAV) to $1.465, based on growth projections.

Council members Nord, Lorenz, Scott Preston and Karyn Smith voted for the amendment. 

Koos and councilmembers Chemberly Cummings and Kevin McCarthy voted no.

“I promised last year I’d say it this year and I’ll say it next year,” McCarthy said. “I am not in favor of kicking any cans down any roads like the state of Illinois has.”

All seven voted in favor of the 90% pension funding for public safety for one year. That's the state minimum. Illinois law requires police and fire pensions to be 100% funded by 2040.

City Manager Pam Reece said it remains to be seen where the town will find the additional $96,000 to cut from the 2020 budget, but she said after the town eliminated about two dozen positions last year, staffing is already lean.

“We don’t have excess staff right now to make that $100,000 cut rather easily, so my guess is when we take a look at things it will be a combination of general fund cuts,” Reece said.

Five residents spoke out against any property tax hike during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“For the last 14 years, Normal property owners have faced a yearly tax increase,” Craig Stimpert of Normal said. “The end result of this legacy is that you are not making Normal, Illinois, an affordable place to live. This taxing madness had to stop.”

Reece said town officials are hopeful that a pension consolidation bill in Springfield would reduce the burden on local property taxes to pay for them.

The final draft of the proposal will go before the council on Dec. 2.

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