O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon voters to consider property tax question Nov. 8

Saying O’Fallon property taxes are growing out of control, Amercians for Prosperity (AFP) has filed a non-binding referendum with the St. Clair County Clerk’s office.

AFP on Nov. 8 will be asking O’Fallon voters if local governments should be required to seek voter approval by referendum prior to increasing its annual total property tax levy.

In other words, voters will be asked if they are in favor of a property tax freeze as proposed by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.

According to state statute, any unit of government in any of Illinois’ 102 counties which increases its property tax levy by more than 5 percent must hold a special public hearing that requires a published notice, according to the state’s Truth-in-Taxation Law.

Mary Gray, a volunteer activist with AFP from O’Fallon, helped to spearhead the local effort who was able get the non-binding referendum on the ballot.

Gray said she is just one of a number of people who is fed up with a number of local taxing bodies, including O’Fallon School Districts 90 and 203 and the state who are ignoring taxpayers by setting their tax levies at the highest ratest without having to hold a public hearing.

On the other hand, she believes the city is doing a better a steward with its taxpayers money by keeping its property taxes under control.

Gray, who helped to lead a citizen-initiated petition drive signed by more than 250 people, said O’Fallon voters should have a say how taxing bodies raise their tax levies.

“I think they all need to be held accountable,” she said.

Gray believes all O’Fallon taxpayers are now being overtaxed at the local, national and state taxing entities.

“But I think some taxing bodies are more prudent than others,” she said.

While an advisory referendum is non-binding, Gray hopes it will make local and state taxing bodies more mindful of taxpayers in the future.

On Wednesday, District 203 Superintendent Dr. Darcy Benway attributed many school districts current funding woes to the state, which has prorated general state aid in recent years.

“The state of Illinois has failed to provide adequate funding to its public schools for years,” she said.

“Many schools are forced to rely on local taxes to meet basic instructional and operational needs. As long as the state continues to inadequately fund schools and fails to provide necessary resources to support the edcational needs of children, the reliance of property taxes will continue. The state-side of the equation must be fixed before addressing the local property tax side. Otherwise, schools will struggle to maintain their current levels of service.”

Gray was critical of O’Fallon School District 90 and 203. She doesn’t disagree that these schools needed more space when District 90 built Carriel and Moye schools, and District 203 built Milburn 9th grade campus.

But she believes all three of these schools were “built to the extreme.”

“If they needed a school, fine. ”But did they have to put in all of the bells and whistles?” Gray said

She also favors consolidating school districts 85 in Shiloh and O’Fallon 90 and 104, which feed into District 203.

Staying status quo is no longer an option, she said.

“If taxpayers need more money, they need to take the taxpayer under consideration,” Gray added.

Gray said she’d like to see all taxing bodies talk with their constituents.

“It’s all about educating people,” she said. “The taxing bodies should be more mindful and considerate of taxpayers.”

While Illinois residents already know they pay high property taxes, but what is not as well known is that property taxes are outpacing residents’ ability to pay for them, according to Ted Dabrowski of Illinois Policy.

Dabrowski, along with Erik Randolph and John Klinger recently co-authored “Growing out of control: property taxes put increasing burden on Illinois taxpayers.”

Dabrowski said on Monday, “over the past 50 years, whether measured in comparison to household income, economic growth, population or inflation, all classes of property taxes — residential, commercial, industrial, — have placed an increasingly unaffordable burden on Illinoisans. Since 1963, Illinois property taxes have grown 2.5 times faster than inflation and 14 times faster than the state’s population.

He said looking along at residential property taxes alone since 1990 reveals:

▪ Residential property taxes in Illinois have grown 3.3 times faster than median household incomes.

▪  Illinoisans’ residential property-tax burden – as a percentage of median household income – has risen 76 percent.

▪ If Illinois froze its residential property taxes today, it would take 28 years for residents’ property-tax burden to return to 1990 levels.

But due to the complex nature of property taxes in Illinois, it’s also difficult for taxpayers to know just where their tax dollars are going, Dabrowski said.

He pointed out that the biggest driver of property-tax growth throughout Illinois has been property taxes that fund schools, which constituted 63 percent of all property taxes in 2013.

“Since 1970, school-related property taxes have grown at the rate of 5.6 percent a year, 25 percent faster than the 4.1 percent average annual growth in inflation,” Dabrowski said.

AFP, founded in 2004, is a conservative political advocacy group.

After the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, AFP helped transform the Tea Party movement into a political force. It organized significant opposition to Obama administration initiatives such as global warming regulation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the expansion of Medicaid and economic stimulus. It helped turn back cap and trade, the major environmental proposal of Obama's first term. AFP advocated for limits on the collective bargaining rights of public-sector trade unions and for right-to-work laws.