The Watch | Local taxes in 2021



The dreadful 2020 is over. The dreadful pandemic is not. And the dreaded bills keep coming in.

On Nov. 10, Peoria City Council members wrestled with some truly appalling numbers. In part, that’s because the 2021 budget anticipated passage of the state’s Fair Tax Amendment on Nov. 3, and the amendment failed.

But that’s only in part.

  • In order to save $10 million from the city’s $200 million-plus budget, 36 vacant positions were eliminated and another eight people were to be laid off by Jan. 1. An early retirement incentive was implemented. (Seven of 52 eligible employees had taken the option by the meeting date; the window is open until July 31.) Ten firefighters had taken early retirement.
  • Debt service doubles, from $9.8 million to almost $20 million. The Council had voted to restructure and “refund” debt service payments in 2020.
  • The public safety pension fee expires in 2021. Without additional revenue to fund those pensions, by 2023, $1 out of $8 in the general fund would go to pensions — and that number will increase until the funds are exhausted.

The Council is looking to the voters for guidance on public safety costs. It discussed a referendum to increase property taxes to support police and fire operations. These separate property tax levies can be imposed up to .075% without a referendum and up to .60% with a referendum. But the Council determined future public safety pension obligations — growing three times faster than inflation annually — should be the focus of referendum questions. Council members voted on Dec. 8 to place two questions on the ballot about raising property taxes to fully fund police pensions and fire pensions.

Finally, from the consumer’s point of view, it makes little difference if you call it a garbage fee or a garbage tax. It’s going up 9.4% in 2021, to $22 a month.

Peoria County Election Commission met Nov. 10. General election results and expenses dominated discussion. The Election Office received four ballots that day, mostly from overseas, and had 20 to 25 that were challenged. The voting breakdown: approximately 39,000 vote-by-mail, 29,000 early votes and 31,000 on election day. Vote totals surpassed the 2008 presidential election. Over 10,000 voters signed up for Ballot Trax.

Under current expenses, the Verizon bill was $67,000 instead of the expected $4,000; apparently Verizon was going to bill for increased use for the whole year rather than the period around the election.

Peoria County received $246,000 from the CARES Act, and everything had to be reported by the coming Friday. Director Tom Bride said $56,000 still remains, but has probably already been spent. The postage grant was for $87,575, but only about $60,000 has been used. The Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) grant has few limitations, and Director Bride hoped to use all of it. He is considering hazard pay for election day judges, but wants to see what other jurisdictions are doing. The current voting equipment will probably be fine for the spring elections, but is near the end of its useful life.

Peoria Housing Authority Board of Commissioners did not conduct business at the Nov. 2 meeting because it did not have a quorum. Staff said the meeting would not be rescheduled. The special meeting for Nov. 13 was not held.

On Nov. 12, masked and socially-distancing Peoria County Board members met in person, though District 8 representative Phil Salzer joined by phone. Chairman Andrew Rand noted it was likely the last time for an in-person meeting in 2020, considering COVID rates.

In written public comments, Hedy Elliott-Gardner outlined concerns for the vacant Harrison and McKinley school buildings in south Peoria. Windows are broken out and the buildings pose a public health threat as they are infested with rodents. At Harrison, hundreds of old tires stored inside are a health risk and fire hazard. A policy change was requested so such properties cannot be sold unless the buyer has proof of financial ability and if a new school is built the old school must be demolished.

After discussion, board members approved a $109,544 CTCL grant intended to support safe and secure elections. Bride said the county has received three grants to help with election expenses, though a couple of them have restrictions. The CTCL grant applies only to general 2020 election expenses and requires only that grant expenditures be reported back by the end of the year. Bride said state officials had alerted locals about the grants, which could help with extra budget pressures this year. He said nothing is asked in return except the final report of expenditures.

Chairman Rand said he didn’t know enough about CTCL, which was funded by Google, Facebook and other sources. District 15 representative Steve Rieker concurred. District 14’s Brian Elsasser said that he wasn’t bothered about the granters asking for anything from the county, but wanted feedback from legal counsel. The board’s attorney assured the board she had read the document, which has no strings attached, but any funding has to be spent in 2020 or returned. The vote was 17-2, with District 16’s Matt Windish absent.

In other business:

A collective bargaining agreement between the county and PCAPS’ Laborers’ International Union North America (LIUNA) Local 165 was approved 17-0. The three-year agreement began Dec. 1, with a 0% wage increase. There will be a 2% increase in 2021 and a 2.5% increase in 2022.

An intergovernmental agreement for county-owned space at One Technology Plaza, which is used by the Illinois Department of Human Services, was sent back to committee for further review.

By unanimous vote, board rules which require an item to come to the agenda through committee were suspended so the declaration of a COVID emergency in Peoria County could be extended.

Peoria City/County Landfill Committee posted cancellation of its regular Nov. 18 meeting on the city’s website Nov. 17.

League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria observers attend and report on local government meetings. Check

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