NORMAL — Normal remains on track for a 6.38 percent tax hike next year.
The Normal City Council signed off Monday on a preliminary property tax increase to cost the owner of a home valued at $165,000 an extra $49 per year to cover employee pension costs.
The town expects the tax rate to rise from $1.4115 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation to $1.5015 per $100 EAV to accompany a $13 million tax levy as part of a fiscal 2019 budget to be adopted early next year. The town's fiscal year runs from April 1 to March 31.
Council members said they dislike raising taxes, noting they'll pay them the same as other residents, but are hamstrung by the state, which requires municipalities to fund pensions at a specific level while also adding fees on municipalities that cut into resources they might use to make the payments.
"We're obligated by state statute to fund 90 percent (of outstanding pension obligations by 2040). This council has decided to shoot higher and fund 100 percent," said City Manager Mark Peterson. "If you don't want to take (the dollars) out of property taxes, you can find some other place in the budget, but that means you've got another hard decision to fill what you've taken."
Peterson noted the town is not raising taxes for other purposes, such as filling a $1 million-plus shortfall in its general fund. Instead, officials have given early retirement buyouts to five employees they hope not to replace and plan to cut more spending as part of next year's budget.
Council members also praised Normal's police and fire employees and said a small tax increase for their pensions is worth the service they provide.
"When you're the one with an issue, who do you want showing up? Do you want top-flight, well-trained personnel ... or are you going to settle for something else? We choose not to settle for something else in Normal, and this is our obligation," said council member Jeff Fritzen.
Council member Kevin McCarthy said the issue is likely to come up again — the town raised property taxes for the same reason in 2016 — and encouraged residents to contact their state legislators on the 2040 deadline.
Public commenters were split on the tax hike. Two frequent critics of public spending criticized the council for further burdening residents, while three speakers who have connections to the town government praised officials' commitment to staying ahead of pension costs.
"I find absolutely no consolation in Gov. (Bruce) Rauner's proposal for a property tax freeze. ... Municipalities like Normal have been emboldened to grab a tax increase while you still can," said Craig Stimpert of Normal.
"I take it as a sacred trust and a moral responsibility to make good on our (pension) obligation," said Julie Hile, a Normal resident and owner of Hile Group, a consulting company that lists the town among its clients. "The question of raising property taxes now this small amount ... is in fact an entirely proactive move and characteristic of the fiscal responsibility I appreciate about this council."