Rock Island County board members approved the 2019 fiscal year budget Tuesday night and with it, an 11.9 percent property tax increase.
County Administrator Jim Snider said the increase was needed to make up a nearly $500,000 shortfall in the general fund.
The budget passed on a 10-8 vote. Richard Morthland, Scott Noyd, Kimberly Callaway Thompson, and Virginia Shelton attended by telephone conference, but were not allowed to vote. Edna Sowards and Larry Burns were absent.
Don Johnston, Robert Westpfahl, Ed Langdon, Drue Mielke, Robert Reagan, Dewayne Cremeens, Mike Steffen and Ron Oelke opposed the budget.
“I do oppose the tax increase,” Morthland said. “I just want to go on record.”
Langdon said many residents in his district favored such a large tax increase.
Kai Swanson said nobody likes to increase taxes.
“Part of good governance is fiscal responsibility,” Swanson said, noting most departments are operating with minimal staff, including the sheriff’s department, state’s attorney and public defender’s offices.
“If you look around, there is no fat department in this county,” Swanson said. “We are down to the marrow. You can be against higher taxes; sometimes that is the path to good governance, but not always. In a revenue-starved county, over a period of 60 years, you’re going to develop some real revenue problems.”
Johnston said part of the problem is that the county paid the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) for the county-owned nursing home, Hope Creek Care Center, out of the county’s general fund.
Luis Moreno said the county should be grateful for Snider’s direction and advice.
“We have some tough choices to make, folks,” Moreno said. “None of this is going to be easy. We’ve got a tough year ahead of us. We’ve got to figure out how to balance a budget without going to taxpayers over and over.”
The overall 2019 budget shows revenues of $79.7 million and expenses of $84.1 million, with a deficit of $4.4 million.
Snider said there are many county funds with reserves that are included in the audit, but not reflected in the budget.
“The budget software does not provide that (reserve) information,” Snider said. “All of those funds have reserves in them. But our operating fund is our general fund.”
Snider said budget costs were brought down by deferring capital requests and revising revenue streams. He said the dollar increase for the levy equates to $32.66 per year — or $2.72 per month — for an owner-occupied property with a $100,000 market value.
A truth in taxation hearing was held prior to the meeting, as is required by law when a levy higher than 4.99 percent is being proposed.
During public comments, Rock Island resident Joe Lemon said he respects the challenges in running a large county, but said his taxes are significantly higher in Rock Island County compared to his properties in Scott County. Lemon said he is concerned with losing population to Iowa.
“How are we doing in terms of recruiting new businesses and new residents?” Lemon said. “How are we going to infuse this community with economic vibrancy? We have an exodus going on.”
Rock Island resident Joshua Shomo said the county needs to reconsider what its assets are and how to increase revenue. Keeping the Rock Island County courthouse, which is scheduled for possible demolition, could generate more in property taxes, he said.
"I really do think we made a huge mistake on the courthouse," Shomo said. "We had a great opportunity to increase our revenues for many, many years."
According to the 2019 budget summary, the county collected $6.3 million in property taxes in 2018. The projected amount in property taxes to be collected in 2019 is $6.6 million, for an increase of $295,000.
Within the general county fund, the most money being set aside is $11.2 million for the sheriff’s department. Other budgeted tax levies include $4.3 million for human resources, $2.7 million for court services, $1.4 million for the state’s attorney, $1.3 million for the circuit clerk and $1.2 million general county expenses.