BLOOMINGTON — Homeowners likely won't see a tax increase from McLean County government next year after all.
The county's tax rate is expected to stick at 91.399 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation, rather than a projected increase to 91.414 cents that would have cost the owner of a $165,000 home another 9 cents per year, after a last-minute adjustment by the County Board on Tuesday.
Members opted to use $3,000 in reserve money to lower the county's property tax levy, which is used to determine the tax rate. An increase in taxes would be the county's second in three years after that rate was steady from 2010 to 2015.
"This nominal adjustment will keep our tax rate identical to the prior year," said board member Jacob Beard, who proposed the change. "In a difficult budget year, that we're able to keep the rate the same is a testament to the work of the administration and staff."
The board also approved the county's 2018 budget, which includes 21 early retirements expected to save costs — officials don't know yet how much, in part because some retiring employees could change their minds — as well as wage and hiring freezes.
Elected officials and union employees still will get raises, though that could change in 2018.
Some positions will be eliminated, though the employees holding them are expected to get other full-time jobs with the county — and the board took steps to lessen how much their pay will be cut in the process, if at all. Officials sought to eliminate about 20 positions overall.
"We believe that (for) all the positions available, these individuals would have the qualifications to perform," said County Administrator Bill Wasson. He's warned, however, that the cuts "will likely result in longer lines for service, expanded automated phone answering and requirements for appointments."
Those moves are in response to declining local and state revenue, including a new state sales tax collection fee introduced in this summer's state budget. Wasson said budgeting for 2019 is likely to be difficult too.
"The reduction in force of county employees is not something this board desired to do, but we suffered ... a giant hole in our budget," said board member Bill Caisley. "This is in response to ... the General Assembly."
Members also requested additional information from the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council about how $94,000 the county will pay that group in 2018 will be used, including an itemized budget and monthly reports to the board's executive committee.
The county is working on an agreement with monthly payments to EDC contingent on those conditions, said Wasson.
"I don't think we should view it as being necessarily anti-EDC, more pro-taxpayer and more pro-transparency," said board member Chuck Erickson.