Council Raises Levy—and Ideas
Alderman approve tax increase, debate funding strategy.
By a 10-3 vote, Elmhurst City Council Monday voted to raise city taxes by 4.9 percent. First Ward Alderman Paula Pezza, 2nd Ward Alderman Pat Shea and 3rd Ward Alderman Michael Bram voted against the proposal.
The levy will raise about $600,000 in new revenue and will cost the owner of a $375,000 house about $33 more per year.
But along with the levy, alderman also raised ideas for how to ensure that they will not be having the same discussion next year.
Mayor Peter DiCianni pointed to July's storms and the decline in sales tax revenue as reasons why the city had to take action to generate additional money for the next budget year. Fourth-Ward Alderman Stephen Hipskind said residents should think of the tax increase as an investment in their own property values.
But Shea wondered why towns of similar size in the area have smaller budgets.
City Manager Thomas Borchert said aldermen should be careful in comparing other towns to Elmhurst, as many do not fund their own waste-water treatment or fire services, as Elmhurst does.
Pezza asked why the levy projections added much of the increase to the fire protection line item, when the budget for fire services was not increasing, She said she objected to an attempt to blame the need for the levy increase on fire protection. But other alderman said the council was trying to make sure fire services did not rely on the ups and downs of sales tax revenue for funding.
Bram did not question the need for more revenue, only the percentage, saying he wanted to see a lower rate of increase.
Many alderman referred to ideas discussed by the city's Finance Task Force. Fourth-Ward Alderman Kevin York reiterated his call for most of the revenue raised by the levy to be used to build up city fund balances.
"Just as every household should have a savings account, so should the city," he said.
Third-Ward Alderman Susan Rose said residents who were facing financial hardship could apply for a tax rebate on the increase, thanks to a program that was put in place last year and was extended for one more year.
"People who truly can't afford it will not pay this tax increase," she said.
Sixth-Ward Alderman Steve Morley lamented the fact that the levy and budgeting process was reversed. He said the city should consider changing its fiscal year or go to a two-year budgeting process.
"Once again, we are levying for a budget we haven't seen yet," he said.
Morley also wants city staff to tell the City Council what it needs to do to avoid a tax increase next year.
Alderman Chris Healy said he knows what he will tell residents of the 5th Ward when they call to ask why he voted to raise their city taxes.
"I'm sorry. I promise to spend it wisely," he said.