Guest Column: County Board Chairman responds to March 15 editorial

Editor’s note: the following is in response to the March 15-21, 2006 editorial “Endorsements: ‘yes’ on sales tax and ‘no’ on incumbent County Board”

While most people realize The Rock River Times is primarily an entertainment medium along the lines of the Globe, National Enquirer, Sun and other supermarket tabloids, a few people might be seriously misled by errors of fact that are woven into the conspiracy theories and paranoid plots that are the mainstay of your publication.

A recent case in point is your March 15, 2006 issue which on page 6A contains the following passage: “Then say to every County Board member you meet, ‘why do my assessments keep going up?’”

I can only assume you either have absolutely no understanding of the property tax process, despite your editorializing on the subject as if you understood it, or you are deliberately trying to mislead readers who might take the article seriously. I prefer to think your misinformation is due to ignorance rather than malice.

Here are the facts:

Property tax assessments are based upon the fair market value of the property.

The assessments are calculated by township assessors elected by the residents of each township. They turn their assessments in to the County.

A multiplier is assigned by the County to ensure that each township’s level of assessments is at the same percentage of market value. The ideal is for property to be assessed at the statutory level of one-third of the actual price for which similar properties were sold. The multipliers are set by comparing the assessors’ figures with actual sales in the area.

Next, the state steps in and applies a multiplier to the County to bring County assessments throughout the state to the statutory level of 33 1/3. The County multiplier from the state has been at 1.0000 for well over 10 years, which means our assessments are fair and equal across the board.

Where does the County Board get involved in this process? It doesn’t. You might as well ask your County Board member why we didn’t get much snow this year. The board has as much to do with increasing or decreasing assessments as it does with the weather.

The next step in the process is setting tax rates. Each of the taxing districts, that’s the airport authority, sanitary district, schools, parks, forest preserves, etc., sets its own tax levy based on its budget. The levies are sent to the County. The various levies are applied to the assessed valuations of the taxing districts, and the result is the imposition of a tax rate that will raise the requested funds. A tax rate can only be imposed if it is less than the ceiling set by law. Any rate increase above the legal limit must be authorized by a change in state law or approved by the voters in a referendum. That’s why there are school tax referendums, library tax referendums, etc.

If people do not like their tax bills, they must remember that voters approved the rates in a referendum, or the state set the limits that local governments are following. There are a lot of other steps involved in the process, such as appeals procedures, mandatory records, etc. But the only property taxes the County Board has any control over are the levies for County government. The County property tax is less than a quarter of most tax bills. For example, in Rockford, the Winnebago County and Rockford Park District tax rates are about the same.

One last point: County taxes are spent on things people have indicated they want. If taxes are cut, does that mean taxpayers would like less snow plowing, more potholes, fewer deputies on patrol? Or would you advocate that other units of government cut back by spending less on downtown development, library services, or job creation? Legitimate arguments can be made why services should be expanded or cut. Arguments can be made about why other revenue sources such as sales taxes, income taxes, licenses and services fees should replace or supplement property taxes. The bottom line is if we want services, the money to pay for them has to be raised from someone through the imposition of some kind of tax.

You have a right to your opinion; however, your misstatement of basic facts does a disservice to the community by directing the public’s attention away from ways in which people can have an effective voice in government and can focus on topics that really need to be debated.

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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