Lake County Needs to Reevaluate it’s P-Card use for Board Members

Lake County Needs to Reevaluate it’s P-Card use for Board Members

In light of recent allegations of abuse with the County’s P-Card system, I would like to propose a replacement system for the County Board Members to contemplate for Members.

While some have suggested a simple reimbursement plan to eliminate P-Cards, unfortunately that does not solve the problem, as well has the unintended consequence of utilizing additional staff time, which I believe would cost more than any savings to the tax payer.

The problem lies in the gap between use of public funds and how it is approved for use. A simple reimbursement plan would not solve the question of appropriate use of tax payer money. It would be unfair to any employee of the county to be in a position of having to challenge elected officials they report to, especially when those officials have the ability to fire them.

To bridge that gap, I suggest a reimbursement (or prior approved requisition in the case of large expenses) system that goes through the finance committee to be voted on by all the Committee members.

This would allow expenses to be approved or rejected in a public forum on a non partisan basis, would not take up additional staff time, and add a TRANSPARENT layer of ACCOUNTABILITY to the process.

I also believe the Board needs to evaluate its existing rules (which they are in the process of doing now) and focus on creating a very clear cut and common sense list of purposes and rules that govern elected officials’ use of tax payer funds.

If elected, I will push for the discontinued use of Board Member P-Cards, and further vow to not accept one for my own use.

Lake County District 3 Property Tax Breakdown

Lake County District 3 Property Tax Breakdown

It is no secret that the main impetus for my desire to run for Lake County Board is based on the incredibly onerous property tax system here in Illinois and Lake County.
Our taxes here in Lake County are 300 times higher than the national average and 200 times higher than the state average.
It is important to know why, before we can start to identify how to fix it.
Villages often get the blame for high taxation, since they are the taxing body closest to the people. In reality, however, most local villages tend to be very diligent stewards of the tax dollars they are entrusted with.
I have charted the property taxes for the four communities in Lake County Board District 3; Lindenhurst, Lake Villa, Round Lake Beach and Round Lake Heights. I broke down the data by High School District, since that is the easiest division for illustration purposes. I based the data on a home assessed at a fair market value of $200,000. The school category includes elementary, middle and high schools where applicable. The data is based on 1 representative home for each of the high school districts.  Numbers will change slightly with different homes that have different primary schools feeding it, however, the differences are negligible and non-consequential to the point.
As you can see, the local taxing bodies, individually, have relatively low levies. In fact, all of them combined only account for about 35% of the entire tax bill. It is only when you bring in to view the school levy, that an obvious problem becomes more apparent.   Schools account for approximately 65% of the tax bill, yet so much time, effort and money has been spent trying to tell us the problem is our villages and our townships.
Are schools the main culprits in our property tax burden?  Absolutely not.  Schools are necessary for the education and foundation of our children and of course they have to spend money.  Yes, I believe there are things the state can do to help our districts save money: Consolidating school districts, getting rid of unfunded state mandates to name a couple.  But the real problem lies not with the schools themselves, yet how they are funded.
In all of our neighboring states, the state covers about 50% of the school funding, with the remainder being covered by federal funding and property taxes. In Lake County, most of our funding comes from property taxes, in many cases as high as 90%.
It is this funding formula that is making Lake County Property taxes one of the highest in the nation.
Additionally, as the Forest Preserve continues to acquire new land, that land gets removed from the property tax rolls. Every dollar of real estate acquired by the Forest preserve is no longer sharing in the paying of property taxes into perpetuity. Over the past 10 years, almost $200 Million dollars in real estate was permanently removed from the property tax rolls. The tax that would have been generated from that property is then distributed to all of the remaining property tax payers to make up.
Additionally, that land can no longer be developed by residential or business development that could add to the tax base and further reduce our tax burden.
Open space is great, but we must approach it with a more careful and measured approach.
If you have any questions, or would like to learn more, please feel free to drop me a line at dickbarrforcountyboard@gmail.com.
Property Taxes in Illinois, and What I Can Do About It

Property Taxes in Illinois, and What I Can Do About It

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.

Forest Preserve

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.

If you would like to help, please consider Donating or Volunteering for our campaign.