Normal Council Shifts On Property Taxes To Fund Communications Position | WGLT

Normal Council Shifts On Property Taxes To Fund Communications Position

Dec 3, 2019

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The Normal Town Council Monday approved its new property tax levy, but the final iteration is a step away from the draft the council approved last month.

The council voted 4 to 3 in favor of increasing the property tax levy by 0.8%.

Council member Kevin McCarthy, who proposed the change, said that amounts to over $96,000 for the town and will cost Normal taxpayers about $6 a year.

“Essentially what we’re saying is, 50 cents more a month to hire a person to do a better job communicating to our residents I think is an amazing deal,” he said.

McCarthy noted without that $96,000, the town would have to delay hiring a communications director—a position that many council members have noted as necessary to improve dialogue between city hall and residents.

Council members McCarthy, Kathleen Lorenz, Chemberly Cummings, and Mayor Chris Koos supported the change, while Stan Nord, Scott Preston, and Karyn Smith voted against it.

Nord suggested raising the necessary funds for the communications director position by raising the rent on town properties, or utilizing upcoming marijuana tax revenue.

Nord was joined by Preston and Smith in stating that making changes to the ordinance that was already presented to the public during last month’s council meeting is bad practice and will create distrust of local government.

“Them being led to believe that their property tax rate would be reduced this year and they would—small or not—feel some small relief from the Town of Normal, facing then that now, without any advance notice and without any advance knowledge that was public ahead of this meeting tonight, that that may change and in fact the tax rate would not be reduced for them, but instead likely increased,” Preston said.

McCarthy pointed out the council was not working behind closed doors during Monday's meeting. He mentioned all council meetings are open to the public and broadcast online.

No one signed up for public comment and the crowd was small, primarily filled with town employees. At last month’s meeting when the tax levy was initially proposed, five residents spoke out against an increase.

“For the last 14 years, Normal property owners have faced a yearly tax increase,” Craig Stimpert of Normal said at the Nov. 4 meeting. “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.”

At the early November meeting, the council voted 4 to 3 in favor of keeping the tax levy flat for one year. This was after several members expressed support in taking a one-year hiatus from fully funding the town’s police and fire pensions.

Traditionally, McCarthy explained, the town has funded pensions at 100%. Last month, the council’s property tax levy vote lowered that contribution to 90%—the minimum contribution allowed under state law. That change brought the proposed levy down by $545,000. Monday night’s vote bumped the levy up to just over $13 million, sligthly lower than the original proposed levy.

The Nov. 4 vote was solely used to advise the town to begin preparing the levy; the final vote on the levy was Monday.

“I think if we’re going to be fair, last-minute changes are last-minute changes,” McCarthy said. “And so if it was fine last meeting, it’s fine this meeting. ... We have to be consistent in our rules and not just decide to selectively apply those rules whenever that situation is convenient for us.”

The tax rate used to figure homeowner taxes is still projected to decline based on an estimated 1.25% increase in property values. 

The town and library share 16% of the total property tax burden in Normal. The largest portion, 60%, goes to Unit 5 Schools.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect a levy of just over $13 million. The original $13.6 million in the story was in error. Context was also added to include the estimated tax rate and the relative portion of total property tax burden controlled by the town.

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