Tax rates are a campaign theme in most elections no matter the level of the contest. This year's race for mayor of Normal is no exception.
Challenger Mark Tiritilli has criticized the amount residents pay in property taxes and blames incumbent Mayor Chris Koos for that.
“Our property taxes have gone up and up and up. Locally under his tenure, they have gone up 42%. There are people working at Rivian saying we can’t afford to live in Normal because the property taxes are so high,” Tiritilli said in a March 9 WGLT debate.
The 42% increase in the Town of Normal property tax rate Tiritilli noted is since 2002. Koos took office in 2003. Tiritilli has said that’s too much. Koos has criticized Tiritilli for allegedly misleading voters by cherry picking data. Voters will decide April 6 which candidate they prefer.
Koos also has said the council has worked to minimize tax increases over the years. And he said during the March 9 WGLT forum that the context shows increases in the town property tax rate pale in comparison with other units of government.
“Property taxes have gone up mainly because the state of Illinois has abdicated its responsibility to schools and cut funding to schools," Koos said during the WGLT debate.
In a general sense, what Koos said is true — though that’s not what Tiritilli is talking about. Although it is true that increases in property tax rates for schools have been much higher than for the town, Tiritilli’s number is correct. Yet Tiritilli blaming Koos and town councils in previous years neglects the fact the town is only a small part of the property tax pie, and that the increases may not have been avoidable without painful cuts to town services.
Town property tax rate increases have largely been dedicated to paying retirement contributions for staff, police, and firefighters, and were not something Koos or previous councils sought.
In a Feb. 17 WGLT story about a gubernatorial plan to take part of the town’s share of income tax money, Koos railed against state requirements that led to the increased pension contributions.
“This on top of years and years and years of pension enhancements and unfunded mandates that the state legislature hands us that we have to come up with the money to fix," Koos said at the time.
What makes up the tax rate?
There are five different levies that make up the total town tax levy, and five different rates that combine to make the total. The largest increase since 2002, according to town records, is in the levies dedicated to pension system contributions for staff, police, and firefighters:
- General Fund: 81%
- IMRF: 203%
- Fire: 139%
- Police: 172%
- Social Security and Medicare: 40%
Town staff said the levy that supports the Normal Public Library has been stable to down slightly over the same period. The rate for property taxes that go to the town's general fund dropped 81% in that time, according to staff.
The total town property tax, excluding the library rate, has risen about 30 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. The rate two decades ago was just under 73 cents per $100 of EAV. It’s now $1.03 per $100 of EAV. That is about 42%, as Tiritilli has said, but excludes the rate for the library. If the library is bundled into the total, the increase is 37%.
The overall town tax rate is about 11% of the total property tax burden paid by Town of Normal residents. For the owner of a $165,000 home, for example, about $566 goes to the town — with most of the money ($2,945) going to Unit 5 schools.
To focus on a 42% increase can be misleading if the overall tax rate number is small. For instance, the rate increase for the Unit 5 school district from 2002 to 2020 is larger than the town’s entire rate, even though the percentage increase in the rate is lower than the town’s increase because the Unit 5 rate was larger to start. The entire rate for Unit 5 is about five times the town’s rate.
Also, the Town of Normal property tax rate remains lower than the rate in Bloomington, but it has risen faster — and over the last two decades has just about caught up. Another point of context is the Normal property tax rate has risen about 2% per year over the period.
2020 Town of Normal / 2019 City of Bloomington/ 2019 Unit 5
1.03263 / 1.09010 / 5.35541
2002 Town of Normal/ 2002 City of Bloomington/ 2002 Unit 5
.72823 / 1.01732 / 4.34413
Property tax rate percentage increase
42% / 7% /23%
The town has chosen to fund police and fire pension contributions with property tax money since the early 1980s — two decades before Koos took office. Koos and town staff have noted state-mandated increases in contributions are not all under the town’s control. In the last couple of years, the town has begun to shift the funding policy choice away from solely property taxes, using other general fund revenue as part of the mix. That conversation is ongoing in each budget year.
Tax rate comparisons among municipalities are difficult because of these policy choices. For instance, Bloomington uses some of its utility tax revenue to fund pension contributions, which might have limited increases in the property tax over this period for the city.
Further complicating comparisons are population and land value changes. There was a 12% increase in population in the Town of Normal over the 18-year period in question. That has increased demand for town services. In that same time period, the assessed value of property in Normal has grown by 59%.
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