Editor’s note: Per newspaper policy, Paul Gorski will take a mandatory hiatus from politics in his column as he runs for Winnebago County Board in the Nov. 6 election. Meantime, he will write a technology column titled “Tech-Friendly.”
By Paul Gorski
I get upset when I read unverified and unchallenged news articles in our local newspapers. Once again, the Rockford Register Star (RRStar) has let me down in this regard. The RRStar’s coverage of the county board’s vote on the 2013 budget last week helped perpetuate incorrect information about our rising property taxes by relying on misleading information from county board members.
Kevin Haas (“County hopes to add officers without more property tax dollars,” Rockford Register Star, Sept. 27) reported that the board’s 25-1 vote on the 2013 budget “holds the line on property taxes” but later states some taxpayers will pay higher property taxes, so I’m not sure how that is holding the line on taxes.
Haas quotes John Sweeney (R), who in response to Steve Schultz’s (R) “no” vote, stated: “every year you don’t bring any ideas to the table to help us with the (budget) process.” That statement is false. Schultz is the brightest financial mind on the board. He discusses budget issues with fellow board members and has presented budget-cutting measures in the past. (Schultz faces Democrat John Gedney this election. Gedney is another bright guy with good ideas.)
Haas also quotes Kyle Logan (R), “for anybody to sit there and suggest that this County Board … has raised property taxes, is demonstrating extreme ignorance in the face of unbending facts.” Logan’s statement demonstrates his “extreme ignorance” of the facts.
The fact is the county board has approved budgets the past three years that result in many home owners paying higher county property taxes. While the county board doesn’t control the “tax rate,” it does control how much money it asks to collect. Ask for less, and save the taxpayers money.
Haas quotes these board members, but I see no evidence confirming the details of their comments. Quoting is fine, but when these quotes call into to question someone’s integrity or a financial conflict, fact-checking is required.
The truth is the county is spending about the same amount of money as it has in recent years, but some of us have seen higher tax bills. Why? Some assessed values have not declined enough to offset the 17.3 percent increase in the county tax rate over the last three years (2011-2013), so many of us pay more than expected in property taxes to keep the county cash flowing.
Some county board members claim there’s nothing they can do about your property taxes going up. That’s not true. The board could cut the budget so you wouldn’t see an increase in the county’s portion of your tax bill. That would mean making some tough decisions.
Budget cutting takes a lot of work, but the board doesn’t review the budget as thoroughly as it has in the past. Budget discussions that used to take months, and included the public, now take just a few weeks.
Next spring, contact your county board member and demand earlier budget meetings, meetings that include public input. Then, go to those meetings and do your own reporting and fact-checking. You just might get the tax bill you deserve.
Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident and a former Winnebago County Board member.
From the Oct. 3-9, 2012, issue