A bill before state lawmakers that would allow the McHenry County Conservation District to raise its maximum tax rate by voter referendum is most likely dead.
The bill, co-sponsored by local Republican Sens. Pam Althoff and Karen McConnaughay, cleared the Senate last month on a 46-0 vote. But the chief sponsor in the House, local Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said he does not intend to call it for a vote in the House.
Tryon said Wednesday that he could not in good conscience shepherd a bill through the General Assembly that would result in a property tax increase. If it passes, he said, other governments that have reached their statutory cap like the conservation district has, could follow suit and ask lawmakers for their own levy increases.
“While there are a lot of people who feel government by referendum is a good thing, government has to work within the statutory means it has,” Tryon said. “People just can’t pay any more in property taxes.”
Senate Bill 3342 raises the conservation district’s maximum tax rate from 10 cents to 15 cents per $100 in assessed value. Althoff amended it to require the district to go to referendum for any requested increase, even if it is below the tax cap, after it got a cold reception from a McHenry County Board committee that the conservation district asked to support it.
Tax revenues are falling with property values, and the district has much more land to maintain in the wake of two successful voter referendums in 2001 and 2007. The district, which now maintains 32 conservation areas with more than 25,000 acres of open space, is expected to lose $2 million over the next four years with the decline in home values if the current maximum rate stays the same.
Conservation district Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
At least two of McHenry County’s representatives in the House, Republican David McSweeney and Democrat Jack Franks, already were on record as opposing the bill. Both lawmakers – Franks the veteran and McSweeney the freshman – have filed property tax relief bills and have sponsored one another’s efforts.
McSweeney on Wednesday called increasing property taxes “the last thing we need to do.” “We’re all terribly overtaxed in McHenry County, and I can’t in good conscience allow that to happen,” Franks said.
Althoff said she will not ask another lawmaker to take over to move the bill forward. The spring session ends May 31.
“I think [Tryon] does what he thinks is in the best interest of his constituents, and [knows] the atmosphere of support in his chamber,” Althoff said.
Tryon is unsure about whether he will call a second Althoff bill, Senate Bill 3341, that would clarify a 25-year legislative oversight that the conservation district alleges creates ambiguity as to the maximum it can borrow in bonds.