NORMAL — The Normal City Council on Monday night approved a tax levy to fund the fiscal year that begins April 1 but not before a sometimes contentious discussion that resulted in the council amending the levy to add $96,834 for a town communications specialist.
The council voted 4-3 to approve a levy that is projected to result in property tax revenue totaling $13,055,328.
The levy revision is expected to add about $6 to the tax bill for a $165,000 house, which now is projected to be about $717.67 in 2020.
The levy is up from the $12,958,494 figure discussed at the Nov. 4 council meeting.
At that time, council members, to keep the town's portion of property taxes from increasing next year, opted instead to reduce how much money the town is putting into police and firefighters' pensions. That meant reducing the goal of reaching 100 percent of town obligations funded by 2040 to 90 percent, the state-mandated minimum.
Council members also directed the town staff to reduce the levy that supports the general fund by an amount that would keep the overall town levy the same as last year.
Council member Kevin McCarthy said Monday night that the pension fund change departed from the town's longstanding policy of 100 percent pension funding but he agreed to a change for one year.
He further argued the general fund cut would result in the town not being able to hire a communications specialist. He said restoring that funding for $96,834 would cost the owner of a $165,000 house an additional $6.04 a year, and he thought the improved communication that would result would be worth that amount of money for the taxpayers.
Council member Kathleen Lorenz agreed, saying council members have agreed about the need for improved communication.
"The feedback I've gotten is we don't communicate well," Lorenz said.
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But council member Stan Nord argued against the amendment, saying taxpayers deserved relief.
Council member Karyn Smith agreed with Nord, calling the amendment a "bad faith move."
She said that after last month's meeting, when the general fund reduction was approved before a large audience, adding back the money without additional public comment "would be a bad message to communicate."
She further argued that the pension funding was more important.
"I would be strongly against reneging on a public commitment we made just a month ago before a full gallery," Smith said.
Nord and council member Scott Preston agreed, with Nord saying the amendment "will create mistrust."
Mayor Chris Koos responded that he saw the amendment as "correcting an error" at the Nov. 4 meeting.
Nord, Smith and Preston voted against the amendment but it passed with the support of McCarthy, Lorenz, council member Chemberly Cummings and Koos.
Finance Director Andrew Huhn explained that McCarthy's amendment would change the town's projected property tax rate, for taxes payable in 2020, to $1.4633 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. That's up slightly from the previous projection of of $1.4524 per $100 of EAV.
The rate for taxes paid in 2019 was $1.4706 per $100 EAV.
The owner of a $165,000 house, who paid $720.53 this year for the town's share of their tax bill, would have paid $711.63 next year if the proposed budget had passed, but now will be paying $717.67 with the $96,834 added back in.
The town is assuming a 1.25 percent increase in the EAV, which is based on the total taxable value of properties in the town. The rate would change if the county determines a different EAV.
Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Swiech