Lincoln aldermen vote to reduce property tax levy
Part 1: Public Hearing

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[December 27, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Thursday, December 22nd, the Lincoln City Council held a public hearing regarding a proposal to reduce the city’s share of the annual property tax collection by approximately $50,000. The hearing was immediately followed by a special voting session

Property owners inside the city of Lincoln annually pay taxes that go to various taxing bodies - the county, schools, the city of Lincoln, library, parks and park district, veteran’s assistance and community college. The tax is calculated based on an assessed property value for the prior year and as determined by the Logan County Assessor’s Office. Taxes paid in 2017 would be based on values established in 2016.

The city of Lincoln presents the county with a dollar amount for the annual tax levy. The city’s levy is then identified on the property tax bill as percentage, it is a comparative based on the levies from all taxing bodies. For example, the taxes collected by the city of Lincoln from the 2012 tax assessment equaled 12.73 percent of the total bill in 2013.

On the annual tax bill, the city’s portion is listed as “Lincoln Corp” and is one line only.

When the city submits its tax levy to the county, there is a breakdown of how the taxes are to be distributed. Included in that submission are amounts that will go to the General Fund, as well as amounts that are designated as payments for special bonds. Those special bonds include the bond payment for the city sewer improvements that occurred several years ago.

In the breakdown of the dollars levied by the city, published by Lincoln Daily News before the public hearing, the General Fund Tax was to be reduced by $50,000, but the portion going to the payment of the sewer bond would increase by $7,055. The two adjustments to the bill would then equal an overall reduction in the property tax levy of $42,455.

At the public hearing, anyone wishing to express an opinion about this tax levy was encouraged to come forward and speak to the council.

Wanda Lee Rohlfs

The first person to speak was Wanda Lee Rohlfs. Rohlfs is a resident of Lincoln, a former city alderman, and is currently running for mayor for the city of Lincoln. She came forward to comment and question comments that had been made in previous council meetings about the tax levy.

She noted that Rick Hoefle had said that he and Jonie Tibbs had addressed the subject with City Treasurer Chuck Conzo. The three had determined that the city could cut its tax assessment by ten percent, and it would be ‘do-able.’ She then noted that the proposed change was for an overall reduction of only 2.8 percent, but there had been an additional option to hold the tax flat or the same as last year, but designate that the $50,000 would be earmarked to go into the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Rohlfs said she felt that the city could reduce the tax levy by $50,000, and also reduce city expenditures. With the reduction of city expenditures, the city could then boost the amount of money being placed into the pension funds.

She said that she had recently read a report that said Illinois was losing one resident every four to six minutes. She said that she did feel something needs to be done to help retain residents, and she would support the tax reduction.

Ilene Owen

Ilene Owen was the next person to come forward. Owen recently moved to Lincoln with her family, from Bloomington. She explained that her family had purchased a home in the new development on North Union Street. She added that the family had chosen to move to Lincoln because her husband worked in Bloomington and she works in Springfield, so it would be an equal commute for both of them from Lincoln.

Owen said her first-year tax bill totaled $7,400 and was $1,600 more than her bill had been in Bloomington.

She told the council that she was sure that other people have looked at Lincoln as a place to move to, but had not chosen to come here because of the high taxes.

When Owen finished, Mayor Marty Neitzel did comment that the city’s portion of the total tax bill is only about 12 percent. She added that the proposal was for a 2.8 percent decrease and that City Administrator Clay Johnson had verified that the city could reduce the tax that much and still have sufficient dollars for city expenditures.

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Kevin Bateman

Kevin Bateman was speaker number three. Bateman is a resident of Lincoln currently serving on the Logan County Board and also running for mayor of the city of Lincoln in 2017.

Bateman’s largest concern was regarding the pension funds. He said he was concerned that the city appears to be using the pension funds as a tool or hostage. He commented, “The option that was thrown out Monday night was to use that money to pay down the pensions. I don’t think we should use the pensions as a hostage or a tool to convince people where this money should be spent.

In my opinion, if the city really wanted to pay down those pensions and do it quickly, we would change from a 70-30 on the Utility Tax that was passed on to the citizens, to an 80-20, or an even more aggressive (amount).”

Note: The Utility Tax, Bateman referred to is not a part of the property tax, but is charged by Ameren Illinois in its monthly billing. In 2013, the city voted to add a four-percent tax on gas and electric, and earmarked the money to go toward paying down the pension deficit, financing bonds for new police and fire departments, as well as bonds for the new sewer improvements that will be mandated by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

In Bateman’s proposal, the city would collect dollars annually to go into the pension funds that would, in turn, have the pensions funded according to state law by the deadline year of 2040.

Seth Goodman

The last person to address the council during the public hearing was Seth Goodman. Goodman is a resident of Lincoln and also running as a mayoral candidate in the February Republican Primary.

Goodman said that as a realtor in Lincoln he knows the property tax is a detriment when families are looking to buy and relocate into the city. He said that he feels that the city has to start somewhere in its work to become a more attractive location for families, and this is a good starting point.

Goodman acknowledged that the proposed reduction was not a large amount, but it was a statement. “The city needs to show people that we are making an effort,” he said, adding, “Even though this is a small percentage, this is better than nothing, and we have to start somewhere.”

When Goodman left the speakers table, Neitzel called for anyone else who wished to speak to come forward, no one did. She then concluded the public hearing portion of the evening.

After a few minutes, allowing time for the city’s recording equipment to reset, the city then adjourned for a special voting session.

[Nila Smith]

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