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Photo by Jason White
Madison County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza checks petitions brought into her office by Edwardsville veterinarian Dr. Mike Firsching (right). The petitions call for a Nov. 8 vote on whether to reduce the maximum rate the county can levy for property taxes.
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Photo by Jason White
(From left) Edwardsville veterinarian Dr. Mike Firsching, Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, Republican County Board candidate Cathy Goclan of Granite City and Wood River Township Supervisor Mike Babcock speak Friday at a press conference outside the Madison County Administration Building.
EDWARDSVILLE – Supporters of a proposal to cut Madison County's property taxes filed petitions on Friday to put the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Voters will decide whether the county's maximum general fund property tax rate should be cut from 0.25 cents to 0.20 cents. Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, Republican candidate for County Board chairman and one of the petition effort's leaders, said an affirmative vote would save the owner of a $100,000 home a maximum of $17 per year. Based on the county's 10-year average of 0.22 cents, the savings would be about $7.
Speaking at a press conference outside the Madison County Administration Building, Prenzler said taxation is one reason he got into politics. According to the Property Tax 101 website, the county ranks in the top 25 percent nationwide and is 28th of 102 Illinois counties by median property taxes and 46th by median tax as percentage of home value.
Prenzler said lowering the rate will prevent the county from running excessive annual surpluses.
“This issue goes back to 1776 – taxation without representation,” Prenzler said. “This is a situation where the county is taxing for money they don't need.”
Critics of the proposal, including County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, say it will force the county to cut 28 to 47 jobs paid for through the general fund, including law enforcement positions. The tax cut would cost the county about $1.3 million per year.
“Lowering the maximum rate will require immediate cuts, make it difficult for Madison County to deal with future state revenue shortfalls, handle the effects of an economic downturn and address inflationary increases,” Dunstan said in an April 25 press release. “Most importantly, programs to protect the public would be impacted.”
Dunstan also has pointed out that the county's level of surplus funds is similar to other counties in Illinois. The surpluses are used for special projects, including a planned renovation of the county's aging jail.
Prenzler dismissed the argument that the referendum would endanger public safety, citing the county's $25 million in cash reserves and $3-4 million in annual surpluses.
“The issue here is excessive reserves,” he said.
The campaign gathered about 10,000 signatures with the help of more than 100 people going door to door and standing outside businesses.
“This really is a grassroots effort,” Edwardsville veterinarian Dr. Mike Firsching said.
Another petition gatherer was Cathy Goclan, a Republican County Board candidate from Granite City.
“Their biggest concern was their property taxes,” she said of those who signed the petitions.
Wood River Township Supervisor Mike Babcock said taxes are one reason businesses and residents are leaving Illinois.
“It's not a revenue problem; it's a spending problem,” he said. “Hopefully at the end of the day, the people of Madison County will understand that we're on their side.”
And while Dunstan has emphasized his administration's efforts to cut property taxes – a more than $800,000 reduction is in effect this year, or a 3.5 percent decrease – Babcock portrayed the efforts as political.
“Now he's running a campaign and wants to cut taxes,” he said. “I think that's disingenuous.”
Prenzler said he thinks Illinois should adopt Missouri's model of putting tax increases to a vote. In Illinois, local governments can adopt a so-called back-door referendum, where voters have to gather the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in a 30-day period to put bond issues on the ballot.
“Everybody wants the right to vote on this,” he said.