Crystal Lake raises tax levy 8.3 percent

8.3 percent hike passes on 3-2 vote

CRYSTAL LAKE – The Crystal Lake City Council approved an 8.3 percent tax levy increase Tuesday, asking taxpayers for roughly $1.2 million more than last year.

The increase – projected to boost property tax revenue from $14.7 million to about $16 million – will cover pensions, firefighter salaries and benefits, library services and crossing guard services. Unlike many municipalities, no property tax revenue goes toward the general fund.

The owner of an average $250,000 home will see a $60.13 increase in annual property tax payments to the city.

The council was split on the vote, 3-2, with councilmen Brett Hopkins and Cameron Hubbard absent from the meeting. Mayor Aaron Shepley made the strongest push for the increase, noting Crystal Lake had the lowest tax rate among municipalities in McHenry County and the city would still account for only one-tenth of a resident's bill.

"The thing that people need to recognize is none of us sitting up here are the beneficiaries of tax increases period," Shepley said. "In our mission as being fiscal stewards, I would like to think this team has done a pretty dang good job."

Property tax increases had been small and even decreased one year since 2008. Since 2008, the city has increased the levy by roughly $300,000 annually and even decreased the levy from 2009 to 2010.

It is that prudence that made councilman Jeff Thorsen wonder why the council could not find another solution to the problem.

"I think you're still looking at a very healthy and revenue rich municipality," Thorsen said. "I'm not in any support of this."

City staff, which recommended the 8.3 percent increase, proposed three other options for consideration. Options ranged from a 4.7 percent increase to no increase, with reserves in certain funds completely drying up as the percent decreased and the need for future increases rising to 14.4 percent for putting off action unless cuts to services or other revenue sources were enacted.

Councilwoman Cathy Ferguson urged council members to compromise and approve a 4.7 percent increase, but members held firm on both sides of the spectrum. Shepley and Ellen Brady Mueller supported the large increase while Thorsen and Ralph Dawson wanted a flat levy.

"If the vote is between zero and 8 percent, then I go eight," Ferguson said. "But I would like to go more moderate."

Of the funds receiving support, the largest bump comes in the fire rescue fund. The proposal calls for a $494,222 increase to move the fund’s budget from $5.6 million to $6.1 million. The increase is needed to offset costs related to the newest collective bargaining agreement, which awarded a 6 percent increase in wages over the life of the contract from 2011 through January 2014.

The second biggest increase is seen in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, which is projected to grow from $1.4 million to $1.7 million. The additional dollars are needed to stop the practice of using reserves to fully fund the pensions. Since May 2011, roughly $760,000 in reserves has gone to the pension fund.

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