Property tax increase gains some late support in Kane County's proposed 2022 budget
Kane County residents may yet see a property tax increase as part of the 2022 budget plan for the county.
A late effort to hike taxes arose Wednesday morning as several board members continued to sound an alarm over what they see as an unsustainable plan to balance a $10 million deficit by emptying the county's savings account and using federal COVID-19 relief money.
The vast majority of the county's budget problems stem from several years of employee salary increases adding costs to the budget without finding new income to fund those costs. Despite that, several county department heads continue to decry difficulties in filling positions and loss of employees to neighboring counties that pay better wages.
Board member Vern Tepe said the county board created the conundrum by not raising the county's property tax levy to keep up with inflation. The board is allowed to do that each year without referendum approval from local voters. A decade of deferring those increases means the county has lost out on $16 million it could have collected.
Tepe crafted a budget amendment that would increase the county's portion of property taxes by 1.4%, the maximum allowable to keep up with inflation. The added tax would reap $750,000 in new money for the county in 2022.
Tepe said not raising the taxes, both this year and in the past, represents a "failure" by elected officials.
"I use the word 'failure' because I believe it is a county board duty to provide the county with adequate funding," Tepe said.
Failing again to put a property tax increase into the budget just digs a deeper hole, he said.
The entire county board is up for reelection in 2022. Incumbents may see a property tax hike as digging themselves a hole with their constituents. They already must answer for verbal commitments to another tax increase.
The 2022 budget contains the promise of a 2-cents-per-gallon county gas tax increase. That tax increase isn't in the actual 2022 budget. The board already missed the window to institute a gas tax increase at the start of 2022, so the gas hike will come as a separate vote in 2022.
If board members stick to that promise, $1.8 million that the gas increase would generate would offset the move of $2 million that would normally go to the Kane County Division of Transportation for infrastructure projects.
Two tax increases tied into one budget would be heavy ammunition for any reelection challengers.
County board member Ken Shepro said he's already spent time justifying the gas tax increase, which amounts to a user fee, as a better alternative for his constituents than a property tax increase.
"If we were to raise the (property tax) levy, I'm not sure I would support raising the gas tax," Shepro said.
Other board members said they opposed adding a property tax increase into the budget so late in the process because it risks alienating other countywide elected officials who negotiated with the board for months over budget cuts and additions.
Some board members also said they want to wait for the outcome of ongoing studies of the county's existing fees, salaries and operations to see what efficiencies come about before adding to the local tax burden.
The county board will take a final vote on the 2022 budget next Tuesday. Tepe will offer an amendment to the budget for the board to vote on that would insert the property tax increase at that time.