Here’s an action alert from the Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts:
ILLINOIS ASSOCIATION OF FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICTS
2015 Annual Conference, Peoria, Illinois
POINTS FOR CONSIDERATION REGARDING LIMITATIONS ON PROPERTY TAXES AS APPLIED TO ILLINOIS FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICTS:
- The General Assembly and Governor should take into account the particular governmental functions of the different units of government which levy property taxes. Proposals being offered take a broad sword approach to property tax relief by general limitations imposed on all units of government regardless of function. This is shortsighted and ill advised. The 800+ Illinois fire protection districts provide fire, EMS, rescue, hazmat and other emergency services to their communities. They should not be lumped with townships, library districts, street light districts etc. Any consideration of limitations on property taxes should consider this. While it is easy to say “let the voters decide,” a fire apparatus cannot be purchased on the way to a fire. Extrication and EMS equipment cannot be purchased on the way to a traffic accident. Lives and property will be put at significantly greater risk if this often heard mantra is used as the basis for legislative decision making. While other government services and undertakings may have the luxury of time for multiple and repeated considerations by voters, that is not true of the emergency services. This fact should be recognized and considered by legislators and the executive branch.
- The General Assembly and Governor should also take into account the differences among the various units of local government with respect to revenue sources. While they range in size from very large urban and suburban fire department operations with full time career firefighters to very small rural districts operating on a completely all-volunteer basis, all fire protection districts rely almost wholly for their financial support on real estate taxes. They do not receive sales tax or income tax revenues or have authority to adopt the myriad of local taxes that municipalities and counties have been granted authority by the legislature to impose. They do not receive regular and ongoing state support such as that provided to schools. Those units with additional sources of revenue such as schools, cities, villages, and counties should be distinguished from units providing essential public services like fire protection districts, but which are forced to rely solely on real estate taxes for their ongoing financial support. Alternatively, if fire protection districts are to be lumped together by the proponents of property tax relief with those other units of government which do receive large amounts of state and federal support, other sources of financial support should be provided to fire protection districts in a similar fashion.
- The General Assembly and Governor should also take into account the relative burden that various units of local government place on real estate taxpayers. Little to nothing is heard in the discussion of property tax relief on this point. In an unscientific sample of actual tax bills from 25 fire protection districts, the average percentage of the total tax bill represented by taxes for fire protection it was 5.3% even though fire protection districts clearly provide one of the most important emergency services furnished in any community. The property tax burden of fire protection districts is minimal by comparison to other units of government such as education.
- Last, the General Assembly and Governor should take into account the impact of external mandates such as those from IDOL, pension costs, OMA, FOIA, Prevailing Wage, newspaper publication requirements etc. on financial resources of units of government. This was raised and recognized in the Lt. Governor’s report issued pursuant to Executive Order 15-15 by the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force. While lip service has been paid for years to this issue, if any sort of further limitation is to be placed on property taxation, it is critical that this be considered for fire protection districts. By way of example, for years, fire protection districts operating under the requirements of the Property Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) in the Collar, Cook, and many downstate counties have been compelled by the mandate of state law to provide a pension to career firefighters to shift more and more of district property tax funding to meet pension funding requirements under the Pension Code. Other mandates such as legal publication requirements, OSHA compliance, and Life Safety Code enforcement requirements have had a similar impact under PTELL. A statewide property tax freeze or expansion of PTELL will exacerbate this situation for districts already under PTELL and impose it on all other districts with similar effect. While districts do not necessarily disagree with some or all of these mandates, consideration should be given to them in any enactment of further limitations on property taxes.