The Forest Park Village Council unanimously agreed to raise the tax levy by 6%, though not before discussing why the village could ill-afford to lower taxes and fees under its current financial constraints.
The levy approved at the Dec. 19 meeting doesn’t represent what the village will actually end up getting. As a non-home rule municipality, Forest Park falls under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), which limits tax levy increases to 5% or the level of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is smaller. The village had to raise the levy above that to account for the library portion, which was set based on preliminary reports from the County Clerk’s office.
The rate at which the individual properties are taxed is based on a complex formula that takes into account the change in property values and the new properties that have come on the tax rolls. The County Clerk isn’t expected to have those estimates until next summer, but that’s likely to lower the village levy as well. If that happens, the village council asked the clerk to take the difference out of the corporate fund portion of the levy, keeping the portion that goes toward pension payments intact.
For the most part, municipal libraries like the Forest Park Public Library set their own tax levies, but the village collects it on the library’s behalf. This year, the delays from the Cook County Assessor’s office of and the Cook County Clerk’s office set back tax levy filings for all taxing bodies. Since the library had to submit its levy to the village before Forest Park set its own levy, it had to go with preliminary estimates, which projected more funding than the final estimate.
If a taxing body requests a levy that’s higher than PTELL allows, the Cook County Clerk will simply reduce it — but if it asks for less than it’s entitled to, the clerk doesn’t adjust upward.
This year, the CPI has gone up more than 5%, so 5% is the de facto cap.
According to the tax levy worksheet, for the most part, the property tax revenue will go toward salaries and pension obligations.
According to the Dec. 15 memo from Finance Director Leticia Olmsted, the village will be using property tax revenue to cover 65% of the actuarially recommended public safety pension contributions.
The village council held a budget hearing ahead of the vote, and the only public comment was emailed ahead of time. Resident Chris Harris asked the commissioners not to increase the levy.
“The economy is entering a recession, interest rates and the cost of living are skyrocketing, people are hurting and, with the village hiking everything from water rates to garbage rates, every cent counts,” he wrote. “Forest Park is a middle-class village with hard-working folks who deserve a break every now and again. You are afforded a chance to do that now. Please vote against the increase.”
This prompted commissioner Ryan Nero to ask Olmsted and Village Administrator Moses Amidei what he should tell constituents who ask why the tax rates are going up.
Accounts and Finance Commissioner Joe Byrnes responded that, with the water rates set by the city of Chicago, the village can either pass on the increase to the customers or cover it from its own budget, the way it had in the past. He also noted that the village had salaries, benefits and pension obligations to consider.
Amidei added that, given that Forest Park is a non-home rule community, its ability to generate revenue is more limited. The village doesn’t have a large shopping center, which allows villages such as northwest suburban Schaumburg to reduce reliance on property taxes, he said. Amidei also mentioned north suburban Highwood, where he previously served as a village manager, which was able to keep the property taxes flat because the revenue from sales tax, motor fuel tax, and video-game gambling offset it.
“As we know, the retail market is still in flux; it’s not as strong as it once was,” Amidei added. “So without new businesses opening, or new businesses closing, we’re still waiting for that rebound.”
“We, as a community, need to be open-minded, and really be investigating and looking at alternative sources of revenue — if nothing else for that reason,” Nero responded.