Many people have asked me, “Dick, you’re running for County Board, what can you do about Property Taxes?”
Those who ask understand that the Lake County Board administers only about 7% of the average homeowner’s property taxes.
Villages, Library Boards, Fire Protection Districts, Park Districts, Townships, etc. make up about another 28% of the Property Tax Bill.
…and schools make up the remaining 65% of our property tax bills.
Since I am running for a position that makes up only 7% of the tax bill, what can I possibly do to help struggling home owners?
Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.
The way I see my duty on County Board is to focus on not just reducing spending, but identifying ways to to provide value. This can be accomplished a few ways, but most significantly by combining purchasing power with other government bodies to effect lower prices and by working with those same governing bodies to share services, equipment and people when possible.
As a steward of the tax payer, I believe it is my duty to reject budget increases in every department, unless those increases can be tied directly to net positive investment for our district.
Another big factor in our high tax bills is the amount of land that was purchased by the Forest Preserve and removed from the tax rolls. The forest preserve has spent nearly $180 million in land acquisition over the past 10 years as a result of the 2008 referendum on the ballot. While it is nice to have that preserved land and beautiful forest, I don’t believe many residents understood the long term and terminal effect that decision had on our individual property taxes. The acquisitions were great for the commerce rich southern communities who already have a business tax base, but our community, where we have very little commerce and very little developable land, it is crushing us. I will be against any future land acquisition by the Forest Preserve until such time in the future that property taxes can be stabilized and affordable for ALL Lake County homeowners. (With the one exception of using the remainder of the $189 Million referendum to acquire property to complete the Millennium Trail, which I see as a net positive for our community.
New Business and Jobs
We also have to look at as a county why we are not attractive to new business growth. We MUST attract businesses that will bring good paying jobs, and along with tax dollars that will help alleviate the burden on us homeowners.
Too Many Taxing Bodies
We also need to look at governing bodies that can be eliminated or reduced. Lake County has 230 individual taxing bodies, some of which have not done anything in decades.
Believe it or not, the County has done a half decent job in being fiscally prudent with our money. The current board has been lowering departmental budgets by 2% for many of the last 6 years. We are also one of only 3 counties in Illinois with very low debt and a AAA Bond rating. I was disappointed with them passing the 2018 budget increase, but was proud that our current board member, Tom Weber (whose vacating seat I am looking to fill), voted against it.
All that said, the County portion of your tax bill represents only 7% of the total tax bill. So even if I were hypothetically able to reduce the county taxes by 100% (of course not possible) I would only be saving you 7% of your tax bill. (Example: If you have a $7,000 tax bill, and I were able to eliminate 100% of the county portion, I’d only save you $490)
So now, I want to explain how else I see my role as your Lake County representative…
The remaining local governing bodies represent about 28% of your tax bill. This includes villages, townships, fire protection districts, park districts, road and gravel, etc. (Everything else except schools).
I have been present and vocal at local board meetings for about half of a decade, being the voice of the tax payer. I want to work with these communities to help each other pool resources and purchasing to get everyone’s budgets down.
***Now, the elephant in the room….*** School Districts & Lake County Property Taxes***
We all know and agree that education is a very important part of our communities. Some will get angry at the schools for their spending. (I used to be one of them… that is until I did the research) Believe it or not, our local schools are run rather tight. The Feds say it costs about $9,000 per year to educate one student. Our local schools are accomplishing it for about 2/3rds that number, at only $6,000.
Can expenses be cut from schools? Probably, but I don’t think drastically. Possibly combining school districts to eliminate so many superintendent salaries is something that could be looked at at the state level, but this is something that on County I have no control over.
The real problem with school finances is not the schools themselves, but more specifically how the state funds them. Our neighboring states fund the schools through their income taxes, which is why their property taxes are so low. The burden of school funding in those states is shifted equally among their population, not solely on the backs of homeowners.
What Can You, The Property Tax Payer Do?
I will keep beating this drum over and over again until people start to hear me. I want to educate everyone so they can be as mad as I am and know where to complain and who to talk to and who to vote out for not doing their job.
The state MUST fix their pension problem so that they can afford to fund the schools properly…
If this can happen (and it will take time) we will finally be able to look forward to a more prosperous future in Lake County.