County approves tax levy increase

A series of circumstances led the Piatt County board on Nov. 8 to approve a nearly 7 percent increase in its property tax levy for 2017, payable on 2018 taxes. The action was preceded by a truth-in-taxation hearing, the board’s first since 2009 and third since 1983, according to County Board Chairman Randy Keith.

He said an anticipated $400,000 decline in Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax proceeds, a $300,000 accounting error, and the possibility of statewide property tax caps led to a series of budget and finance meetings to raise budget revenue and cut expenses in order balance the county’s budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins on Dec. 1.

It was the forecast of lessened CPPRT funds, which last year accounted for about 30 percent of county revenue, that triggered a round of budget talks, which in turn led to $260,000 in budget cuts and a tax levy totaling about $300,000 more than 2016. Since the total levy of $4.57 million represents more than a 5 percent increase, the truth-in-taxation hearing was required.

“The first shots were fired a few years ago when CPPRT went to support regional (school) superintendents and to finance them,” Keith said. “Then we got a notice back in a budget meeting in August that we would be cut 23 to 24 percent.”

Part of those dollars are being diverted by the Illinois General Assembly to fund other line items including state community colleges.

During public comment, audience member Brian Fulton asked what some of the other stresses were on this year’s budget. Keith said they included a continued lag on state reimbursements and $153,000 in county funds that have not yet been paid back by the nursing home.

Maureen Holtz, also speaking in public comment, said it might be time for the county to wean itself off of CPPRT, which is a dispersal of corporate profits established in 1979 to make up for the banning of personal property taxes. Replacement taxes are based on what the corporate climate was at that time, which included Monticello being the home to several large corporate entities (including Illinois Power) that are no longer located there.

“My point is everybody here, the school, the city, the county all act as if they’re entitled to this, and it’s just been a big pot of money sitting out there waiting for people to say, ‘hey, we can take that’ because if the figures were to be redrawn and the numbers were to be reallocated, Piatt County wouldn’t be entitled to hardly anything,” said Holtz.

“I think you need to act as though corporate replacement tax is never going to be there, period, and start acting within the purview of what you have available, without corporate replacement tax,” she added.

Keith responded “that’s what I think we’re doing today” with cutbacks being made due to less CPPRT, and added it was not an easy decision. He said the county might have been able to keep the levy increase under 5 percent and get by on fund reserves, but that the county may not be able to raise the levy at all if the state legislature approves property tax caps.

“I think it takes a little courage and leadership to sit up here. I think it’s the right thing in my mind to do, to proceed with this at this time,” he said.

“Our budget is what I would consider a bare bones, no frills type of budget. We are balancing it and that is simply just about unheard of anymore,” added board member Al Manint.

The county received about $1.94 million in replacement taxes in 2016-17. This year is projected to be reduced by about $400,000, and approximately $200,000 less than early county budget estimates.

The state pays CPPRT during its fiscal year that begins in July, and with three of eight payments sent this year the county has received $528,000, about 17 percent less than the $628,000 received through the same period of last year.

After discussing the levy at both the truth-in-taxation meeting and the regular county board meeting that followed, the board approved a 2017 levy of $4,569,897, compared to a total of $4,272,535 extended during this taxing year. The levy for corporate and special property taxes represents a 7.17 percent increase, while those levied for debt service and building commission leases are anticipated to rise 2.92 percent.

The board also approved its final budget for 2017-18 that totals just over $6 million in both revenue and expenditures. Keith said the budget has about $19,000 more in income than expenditures as it now stands.

RFQ approved
The county approved the release of a request for qualifications for firms interested in entering into an energy performance contract with the company. One company, SmartWatt, estimated the county could both pay for a $1 million outlay made by SmartWatt and save $1.2 million over the next 20 years through building work that generates energy savings. Firms will have six weeks to present their qualifications to the county.

Fulton and Holtz both pushed for more transparency from the county board, especially in posting agendas on its website.

Fulton also said he took benefit time to attend the morning meeting, saying day meetings “limits the involvement by many of our citizens.” He also suggested that county board packets, including a list of vendors paid that month, be scanned in and posted on the website.

Holtz called the county website “pretty pathetic” and pointed out the need for updates to county personnel and FOIA officers.

In other action, the board:
–tabled consideration of a special use permit for the Village of DeLand to operate a public utility on one acre of land near Monticello. The village has drilled two wells on the property to access a new water supply, but the zoning board of appeals wanted to make sure conditions could be placed on the permit to help neighboring landowners if their wells are adversely affected;

–approved a funding petition from the highway department to spend approximately $500,000 to replace a bridge in Unity Township on 1325 road just south of CR 300 in the southeast corner of the county;

–approved a request of county engineer Eric Seibring to spend up to $1 million in Motor Fuel Tax funds on the 2018 oil and chip program. He said the actual expenditure will be in the $400,000 range unless an emergency arises; and

–heard from Mental Health Department Director Tony Kirkman that a donation helped fund the purchase of a 14-passenger accessible bus.





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