MORRIS –The Morris City Council approved keeping its tax rate the same despite decreasing property values, but council members argued whether more could be saved for the taxpayers.
Since 2008 the City Council has approved its levy with a 65-cent tax rate for its property taxes and during its regular meeting Monday it approved its levy request with this same rate again.
“This includes funding the police pension at 100 percent and making a one-time payment to get people covered under [the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund] caught up,” said Alderman Bill Martin, chairman of the Finance and Administration Committee.
The levy is for the fiscal year that began May 1 and ends April 30. The city files tax levies to make sure it captures all available property tax dollars once the total equalized assessed value (EAV), or property value, is determined.
The city’s total estimated levy is $1,693,250, which is 2.46 percent lower than the 2012 levy, Mayor Richard Kopczick said.
Of that amount, $25,000 is designated for the garbage fund, but Morris residents pay for their own garbage pick-up now, so Alderman Randy Larson questioned why they are being taxed for it.
For years the city paid for residents’ garbage pick up through income it received from host fees for local landfills. But as the landfills have filled up, they had to take in less garbage reducing fees it owed the city until it depleted. Before the city approved garbage fees for its residents, it had to loan the garbage fund money from the general fund to get through.
Money still remains to be paid back to the general fund, but Budget Officer John Enger said he will be recommending the remaining balance be forgiven for next year’s budget. Kopczick said after the meeting about $150,000 is still owed to the general fund.
The $25,000 is to help repay that loan, as well as pay for other garbage-related costs such as paying for services at foreclosed or abandoned homes, Kopczick said. The tax rate portion for the garbage fund is one tenth of one cent of the entire 65-cent rate.
“This will put a buffer in if there is a shortfall,” he said.
“It appears to me, and it appears to others, citizens of Morris are paying for garbage through taxes and through themselves [through the garbage fees],” Larson said.
The debate became heated between some of the aldermen and the mayor. Kopczick reiterated that if a shortfall occurs, without the $25,000 the city council would have to amend the budget and move the money over from the general fund again to cover the costs.
Larson said when the garbage fees were implemented the Health and Sanitation Committee said the garbage tax would be eliminated.
“We’re still working on it, we’re getting there,” Kopczick said. “We have knocked 80 percent off.”
Last year’s levy designated $124,816 in the garbage fund.
Kopczick added that despite falling total EAV, the city continues to maintain its tax rate despite other taxing bodies in the city raising their rates. Since 2009 the total EAV has gone down about $60 million.
“I’m not disagreeing, I’m saying its an opportunity to make it lower for the citizens,” Larson said.
The levy also reflects an increase in the police pension and municipal retirement funds. Pension costs have increased and the city decided to continue to pay 100 percent for 22 years instead of taking a 90 percent option for 30 years, as allowed by public act, Kopczick said after the meeting. In addition, it had to make IMRF adjustments that resulted in city having to pay some money back.
Aldermen Larson and Don Matteson voted against the levy.