The all-Republican McHenry County Board Tuesday night voted unanimously to cut the tax levy for the Valley Hi Nursing Home to zero.
The significant amendment did not even require a roll call, as County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller called for a voice vote.
In recent years it has been pegged at $3 million, down from $6 million the year the building bonds were paid off.
Ralph Sarbaugh, Associate County Administrator for Finance, said it would save the average home about $30.
When discussion pointed toward victory for the tax cutters on the County Board, County Administrator Peter Austin said, “Never before this year have we considered collecting less money.”
The problem from the public administrators’ point of view was that cutting the amount to be collected next year could lead to losing the authority to collect the lose tax forever.
A complicated discussion about how the $40 million “in reserves” could be give back to taxpayers took much of the time spent on the tax levy on Tuesday night.
It started with Finance Committee Chairman Mike Skala proposing to abate the $3 million levy for two years with the intent of re-imposing it in the third year.
This was a completely new idea that most of the Board members had never encountered before the meeting (although Finance Committee member Yvonne Barnes read Committee minutes from ten months ago when she asked about the abatement process).
Barnes was particularly upset with the procedure that Skala followed, making a long motion incomprehensible to most in the room.
“The way this was handled was absolutely unacceptable,” concurred Diane Evertsen.
A break was taken to try to figure out what was going on.
Finance Committee member Nick Provenzano had done some homework with the County Clerk and concluded that just abolishing the levy was preferable to passing it with $3 million, as Skala suggested, and hoping that amount would be abated before tax bills were determined.
“I fully support the amendment that Nick [has proposed], Barnes said.
“I don’t have any confidence that we’ll get an abatement passed [before April 1st].”
Getting rid of the Valley Hi levy was brought up first by Mike Walkup, the man running against Gottemoller for County Board Chairman. He did so in the Finance Committee, on which he does not serve.
Chuck Wheeler sought to amend the Valley Hi levy down by $750,000, but did not get enough votes.
Without the amendment, and with one committee member leaving early, the levy did not receive approve either.
A second meeting was necessary at which the money Wheeler sought to excise from the levy was approved.
A month ago no amendments were accepted to the levy. Members were told to wait until Tuesday night’s meeting.
Skala said he made his motion for three reasons:
- He didn’t want to negatively impact the ability to tax new growth.
- The County wouldn’t be able to raise taxes by the increase in the Consumer Price Index.
- He wanted to maximize the amount of money that could be returned to taxpayers over the next three years.
[Skala did make one comment that didn’t make sense to me. He said if the new growth were not taxed, it would increase the tax burden on current taxpayers. It seems to me that, if the same amount of money were collected in year two as in year one, year one’s taxpayers would pay less, not more, because there would be more assessed valuation to bear the burden in year two.]\
Austin continued to try to convince Board members that Valley Hi was in financial danger.
“We wouldn’t be adding to the reserve so that reserve will be eaten up pretty quick,” he said.
Wheeler said his conversations with taxpayers led him to believe they had “clearly spoken.”
Their opinion is that they “are being taxed to death in McHenry County.
“The elderly are being taxed out of their homes.”
He said he had talked to people in other parts of Illinois.
“They’ve never heard of a project that had a $40 million reserve.”
Wheeler suggested if things didn’t work out the Board could take it to the voters.
“I think the time has come to ask the taxpayers if they want to continue to support [Valley Hi] with tax dollars.
Andrew Gasser chided other local governments–all non-partisan in nature–for raising taxes.
He pointed to the Cary Park District, the Village of Algonquin, the Fox River Grove Grade School District and Crystal Lake High School District 155.
Toward the end of the debate, newly-sworn in member Jeff Throsen had this to say:
“I think we have an opportunity to provide relief.
“We’re sitting on $40 million.
“I want to vote.”
Missing from the meeting were Tina Hill and Bob Nowak.
John Hammerand said, “She was in the parking lot.”
Hammerand, by the way, said he voted for the budget for the first time in 16 years of serving on the County Board.
He was the first one to tell me that the County was continuing to collect taxes after the Valley Hi bond issue was paid off.
During the public comment period I told the Board that they were going to lose the tax protest suit that was recently filed. I told them while I was County Treasurer in the late 1960’s, I had written refund checks in similar cases.