The McLean County Board has approved keeping the property tax rate the same, as part of next year’s $104.5 million budget.
Board member Chuck Erickson requested the county drop the proposed tax levy $7,927 to $36,921,985 to allow the tax rate to remain equal to the current rate of 0.91375 per $100 equalized assessed valuation.
The board approved the change in a 14-5 vote at its monthly meeting Tuesday with members Lea Cline, George Gordon, Elizabeth Johnston, Logan Smith and Shayna Watchinski voting against the levy change.
The budget passed in an 18-1 vote. Smith cast the only "no" vote.
County Board member Laurie Wollrab she doesn’t welcome last-minute changes to the tax levy that have become common before adopting the budget each year, but she said it was appropriate this year given the financial hardships many are facing.
“This year above all others proved most difficult for people to come up with anything, even pennies on the dollar of an additional tax levy,” Wollrab said.
County Board Chairman John McIntyre agreed any tax increase would place an undue burden on families.
“It’s nice if we can keep our tax rate the same at this point in time, considering our pandemic and all the stress we’ve had to go through with this budget,” McIntyre said.
The levy is about a 1.5% increase, reflecting an increase in taxable land values in the county.
The budget allows for 1% pay raises for non-union county staff in January and another 1% increase in July.
County Board Administrator Camille Rodriguez said the budget doesn’t include additional jobs, but county departments can fill vacancies as needed.
County Board member Elizabeth Johnston called on the county to take on a greater role enforcing COVID-19 restrictions as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rise sharply. She cited the new restrictions Gov. JB Pritzker issued Tuesday as a way the county could help contain the virus’ spread.
“We are here. We can intervene and I’d like to see us moving towards that,” Johnston said. “At some point there is a breaking point where government has been stepping in.”
Tom Anderson, the environmental health director with the McLean County Health Department, has said the county’s enforcement powers are limited.
Johnston, who works as a counselor, said the pandemic has complicated grief for families as they struggle with guilt and anger.
“I’ve spent my months during the pandemic counseling members of the community through everything imaginable and the hardest issue by far has been losing a family member to COVID,” Johnston said. “Family members who have died alone, they have died in fear and they have died gasping for breath.”
Johnston read to the board a letter from board member Sharon Chung, who was unable to attend the meeting.
Chung said she is keeping a list of businesses that are following the COVID protocols and a list of those that aren’t.
“You can ask anyone who knows me I have a very long memory and I will not forget,” wrote Chung, who criticized local elected officials for not supporting the recent restrictions Pritzker put in place, which include banning indoor dining at bars and restaurants.
“Let’s go from McLean County, Bloomington-Normal being a cautionary tale and a joke to being a success story,” wrote Chung, citing the community's recent ranking among the fastest-growing coronavirus hotspots in the country.
Erickson revealed he tested positive for the coronavirus several weeks ago. Erickson said he experienced some COVID symptoms including headaches, body and muscle aches but had no respiratory problems. He said he feels “perfectly fine” now.
“I do hope that my coming through COVID-19 is encouragement to others that they can, too,” he said.
Erickson said he went into quarantine as soon as he experienced symptoms. He participated in the County Board’s Finance Committee meeting on Nov. 4 virtually while under quarantine.
In other business, the County Board
- Approved the appointment of Cline, a Democrat, to serve the remaining three weeks of a board vacancy in District 8. Cline replaces Carlo Robustelli who resigned in September for a job relocation. Cline defeated Republican Jordan Baker in the Nov. 3 election.
- Approved a $598,000 contact with Western Specialty Contractors of Peoria to replace the roof at the McLean County Museum of History.
- Presented proclamations to retiring board members William Caisley and George Gordon. Caisley, who served 14 years on the board, chose not to seek re-election. Gordon, who served 24 years on the board, lost in the Democratic primary to Hannah Beer. Beer will replace Gordon next month.
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