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Smaller county budget, flat levy up for review

WOODSTOCK – The 2013 levy put on 30-day review by the McHenry County Board holds to its members’ pledges to not to raise the levy.

The $78.6 million property tax levy for next year’s bills will not capture the 3 percent increase that county government is entitled to collect under the tax cap.

This freeze only applies to the portion of tax bills funding county government, not schools, municipalities, townships or other taxing bodies, which are responsible for their own levy decisions.

County government is collecting $2.3 million less in property taxes than it is allowed under the cap.

The County Board put the levy on review Tuesday evening, as well as a 2013 budget of $252 million, or $4.6 million less than this year’s $256.7 million spending plan.

The Finance and Audit Committee earlier Tuesday recommended approval of the 2013 levy and budget on 5-0 votes.

“We’ve done, I think, exactly what the County Board charged us with doing,” County Administrator Peter Austin told the committee.

The levy and the budget will be approved at the County Board evening meeting Nov. 20, the last one before the Dec. 1 start of the county fiscal year.

Work on the budget started earlier this year, and began with a top-to-bottom review of the budget development process. The overhaul was spearheaded by finance committee Chairman Scott Breeden, R-Lakewood, to avoid a repeat of a last-minute effort last year to make significant changes to the budget.

Board members last November tried to amend the budget the night of the vote, two weeks before the start of the new fiscal year, to eliminate the 1.5 percent levy increase on this year’s bills allowed under the tax cap. The board – where all 24 seats are up for election this year because of post-census redistricting – had instructed county staff the month before to capture the increase.

The tax cap was meant to protect collar-county taxpayers by limiting how much more taxing bodies can collect each year to either the rate of inflation or 5 percent, whichever is smaller. But when home values decline – a scenario never considered by lawmakers – the cap helps government and hurts taxpayers by guaranteeing that taxing bodies can collect an increase to offset inflation if they choose to do so.

The levy for next year’s taxes totals more than $78.5 million, about half of which – $37.9 million – goes to the county’s general fund. Other significant parts of the levy include $11.8 million for the mental health fund, a combined $7.75 million for the road and bridge fund, and $5.25 million to help subsidize Valley Hi Nursing Home.

County government makes up about 10 percent of a homeowner’s tax bill, with school districts typically making up the largest share.

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