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Thomas Clatterbuck

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Residents in Jacksonville may see an increase in their property tax bills next year. Last night, the Jacksonville City Council voted 8-2 to raise the city’s levy by 3.5 percent. This was the first reading for the increase, and it will be voted on again at the remaining meetings this year.

Unsurprisingly, growing pension costs were cited as the main driver of the increase. Pensions were up $364,000 this year. 2.4 percent of the 3.5 percent increase was necessary just to cover the police and fire pensions.  New actuarial data has driven up the projected costs of the pensions; and this trend is expected to continue for the next several years.

The council also pointed to the compounding effect of levy increases as a reason for the increase. Jacksonville, like other home rule units, has a five percent cap on the annual increases for their levy. Every year the levy is less than the cap, the next year’s levy will be smaller that it could be. “We’ll never get that money back,” was a common refrain among the supporters for a higher levy.

Not everyone agreed with this logic. Alders Steve Warmowski and Mike Wankel voted against the increase. Warmowski said later that any money the city “loses” stays in the hands of residents.

Just one slice of the property tax pie

But the council stressed that this was not a 3.5 percent increase to property tax bills. Many different taxing bodies contribute to the property tax bill. In Jacksonville, the school district accounts for almost two thirds of the bill. The city is only 22 percent. The remaining portion is spread among many other bodies, including the county, airport, and community college.

Property taxes are also a set dollar amount in total, not per unit. Once the levy is set, every property pays its proportional share of the bill. That means growth in the community can mean a lower property tax bill for everyone, even if the total levy has gone up. Jacksonville grew by .4 percent last year, so even the 3.5 percent increase for the city’s portion will be slightly lower than 3.5 percent.

Residents who want to weigh in on the proposed levy increase can attend the remaining meetings this year, which occur on the second and fourth Monday’s of the month.

Archeological Surveys

The council was also briefed on a potential archeological survey needed for a water improvement project. Much of the city’s water comes in on an aging pipeline. To increase the lifespan of this vital piece of infrastructure, the water department wants to install a surge suppression unit, that will keep the pressure more even in the pipeline. However, the only place the unit can be installed is in an active archeological area.

To protect the area, a survey will be necessary. Archeologists from the University of Illinois will be brought in to sweep the area. Their project will be expensive, and may cost over $59,000. To further complicate issues, if a major discovery, such as a burial site, happens on the last day of the survey, not only will the city have spent all of the initial money, the whole project would be delayed. While this is unlikely given the current assessment of the area, it did make the council more cautious about the survey.

But the cost of not adding the surge suppression unit was seen as a worse option. Replacing or overhauling the decades-old 30 inch pipeline will be a serious undertaking. Paying a small amount now to extend its lifespan was seen as the best option.

You can watch the workshop session and the chamber session in the players above and below.

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Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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