Paula Yensen knows your property taxes are too high. She knows your family is struggling to make ends meet, and wondering when you will get some relief.
We have too many units of government, with overlapping and confusing jurisdictions and responsibilities. The State of Illinois has been using pension funds as a piggy bank for decades, and has failed to fund schools at the level the State Constitution demands. That's led to our budget disaster and record-high property taxes.
We have more units of government — nearly 7,000 — than any other state, by a large margin. Second-place Pennsylvania has less than 5,000, but just as many people as Illinois.
Illinois has some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and they are increasing much faster than inflation or income.
Property taxes are more burdensome than either income or sales taxes, especially since property taxation is not based on ability to pay. It's a "wealth tax" that may not reflect the taxpayers current economic situation, especially retirees on a fixed income.
Local schools are the largest consumer of property tax revenue, but they are not the biggest culprit in the property tax increases. Non-school taxing bodies have increased their consumption of property taxes by nearly double since 2000.
Homeowners' share of the property tax bill has grown much faster than commercial real estate. That's a sign of sluggish economic growth and poor planning.
So what's the solution?
Whenever government has trouble balancing its budget, the easy solution is to raise taxes. But the easy solution is the wrong approach. We need to cut government spending and find ways to consolidate government services and taxing bodies. That won't happen unless we elect leaders who are willing to make the hard choices and get public support.
Current County Board members love to cite the levy reduction for Valley High last year as an example of their tax-cutting ways. In fact, it was really just a shell game. The levy was abated on one line-item but the overall tax burden went up slightly, and money was borrowed from Valley High to dump extra money into the County Board's pension fund. Check your property tax bill. Did it go down? For most people, the answer is no. Here are just a few things we can do in McHenry County to really reduce our tax burden:
- Start electing County Board members who will put taxpayers first. Too many of the current members have been in office for a decade or longer, and haven't done a thing to reduce taxes. Why keep re-electing the same politicians who refuse to solve the problem?
- Cut the size of the County Board. We have 24 members on the board now. We can get the work done with 12-16 members without forcing those positions to be full-time. Consolidate some of the committees and reduce the amount of time spent in meetings. We have professional staff who can take on more of the details, and let the Board return to its rightful role as an oversight body. There's no need for Board members to be spending four or five hours in meetings that could easily be completed in less than one hour.
- Eliminate health care benefits for County Board members. There is absolutely no excuse for part-time Board members enjoying this perk when they deny the same benefit for part-time nursing staff at Valley Hi nursing home. Some board members receive more compensation from the health care package than from their salary. Many of them are Medicare eligible, but still choose to burden the taxpayers with this expense. It's outrageous.
- Demand that Board members do their homework. The Board recently spent $130,000 for a multi-media presentation on road projects. The material presented was not new. It was simply a nicely re-packaged summary (complete with aerial drone videography) of information the Board members already had. The members who most vocally demanded the presentation and special meeting didn't even bother to show up.
- Make meaningful investments in our infrastructure to attract new businesses to our communities. Profitable businesses and commercial real estate should be shouldering a larger share of our taxes, to take the burden off of home owners. So how do we do that? We should increase our efforts to leverage federal and state money for local projects. It's a win-win when we can improve our local infrastructure and business climate without spending a dime of local property taxes. Why would anyone be against that?