NORMAL — Despite public opposition, Normal taxpayers can expect another property tax hike next year.
The Normal City Council unanimously approved on Monday a $13 million property tax levy for 2017, which is expected to trigger a 5.9 percent property tax rate increase.
The rate is expected to rise from $1.4115 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation to $1.4949 per $100 EAV for the taxes payable in 2018. The owner of a $165,000 home would see the town's share of their tax bill increase by about $40 to about $816.
Officials said the increase is necessary to pay for police and fire employee pensions, but 11 town residents who spoke against the hike during a public hearing before the decision questioned that.
"I think back to my years on the council, and I think every year we used the same excuse," said Parker Lawlis, a former council member who served more than 20 years. "Residents don't want this."
Speakers questioned both why the town isn't using other money to pay for pensions and why the town has spent money on specific projects, including public facilities and incentive agreements.
"You need to start saying 'no.' I think you guys say 'yes' way too much," said Jeff Haab of Normal.
Others questioned the town's return on investment for pension funds, which officials said are managed conservatively to avoid taking big risks with needed public money. The town manages police and fire pension investments, but state officials control other employee pension funds.
"Do some arm-twisting to let these pension funds know we're underperforming and we need to fix it," said Doug Sauer of Normal.
Council member Chemberly Cummings started the council's comments by reading selections of the state's pension code, which specifies that municipalities will keep up with pension costs from property taxes.
"I read through this to find is there any other way. I could not find a single way," she said. "We're left to make the hard decision ... and take the whipping from our constituents."
Council member Kevin McCarthy asked residents to take their concerns to their state representatives, who could change a requirement that municipalities fund 90 percent of their pension obligations by 2040. Gov. Bruce Rauner previously told The Pantagraph he won't push for that to change.
"We don't get to set the rules. We just have to pay for them," said McCarthy.
Council members said they don't take the increase lightly, in part because they also need to pay it.
"I've heard people say we're raising your taxes, it's our taxes, too," said council member R.C. McBride.
The town has asked employees to take early retirement and plans to make spending cuts as part of its fiscal year 2019 budget, which will start April 1 and will be unveiled in January.
"For those who want to see some things cut, the cuts are coming," said McBride. "They're coming because we have to do that, too."