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Jeff Ward: The Truth About Your Property Taxes

I'm getting so aggravated, I may just run for mayor!

To ensure my fingers are squarely on the pulse of the public, at least once a week I call state Sen. Chris Lauzen’s Aurora office to ask his eminently capable administrative assistant Kim Murphy the following question: “What are the fine citizens of Kane County calling about this week?”

Though it’s generally a random assortment of regular issues, sometimes there’s a theme. And last week’s theme was property tax bills, as in no one was happy with what they were asking for the first 2012 installment.

I suppose we could consider ourselves fortunate not to live in Elburn or Sugar Grove, the loci of this spring discontent. Apparently, some of those bills skyrocketed by 8 percent! That said, I’m not sure if anyone already paying $9,000 in property taxes can truly call themselves “lucky.”

And as you might expect, one of the usual suspects commenced to shrieking right here on Patch about the vast amount of money that goes directly to our schools. But the truth is that’s becoming more and more of a red herring.

As it was, is, and always shall be, in every city in this country, school districts will demand the majority of your tax dollars. It’s that simple. But they’re not nearly the only ones who have their fat little hands in our piggy bank.

Consider this, District 304’s portion of the Geneva property tax bill went up just 3.6 percent this year despite a mountain of school building debt that’s making the best of us nervous. I know it’s still too much, but it ain’t nearly as bad as the folks behind those phone calls have it.

Do the math and you’ll discover that the Kane County Forest Preserve got a 13.6 percent rate hike. What the heck is KCFP President John Hoscheit doing over there? Building gold-plated outhouses? I understand they’re buying up land while it’s cheap, but 13.6 percent in this economic climate? Not cool.

Both the Geneva Township and Township Road District asked for just 3.7 percent more, but they should’ve been flat or lower. Those folks think, because their portion of the tax bill is so small dollars-wise, no one’s really paying any attention.

It’s also true that Waubonsee tipped the scales with a disproportionate 10.8 percent increase, but that’s an investment I’m willing to make. I’d rather subsidize my neighbors once so they can reinvent themselves than support them for the rest of their lives.

The Geneva Park District, which takes almost as large a cut as the entire city of Geneva, got a 4.2 percent raise. (I still love you, Sheavoun!)

Also coming in at 4.2 percent hike was the Geneva Library which, when you consider that the definition of the word “library” is undergoing a radical reformation, is way too much. Despite all the digital evidence to the contrary, they’re still considering expansion!

The only entities that came in lower that District 304 were the county at 2 percent, and the city of Geneva at 2.2 percent. And the only reason Geneva came in lower is because the aldermen rebelled against the mayor and cut a proposed tax increase in half at the last minute.

Speaking of the city of Geneva, the property tax bill line item that stood out like the proverbial sore thumb is the ratio of pension dollars to the basic levy. For example, on my bill, the Forest Preserve gets $275 for operating expenses and another $5.50 for pensions. That’s a 2 percent ratio.

District 304’s pensions come in at 3 percent, the Park District at 7.2 percent, the library at 10.4 percent, and the city of Geneva—are you sitting down?—25.3 percent! That’s right! One out every four of our city tax dollars goes directly to keeping municipal employees in the lifestyle to which most of us would like to become accustomed.

Of course, most of it, especially fire and police, is mandated by Springfield, but even with the all the sheriff’s employees, the county still does better with a 21.6 percent ratio..

Perhaps if unnecessary car allowances didn’t count toward Geneva pension benefits, we might be doing a little bit better.

You can’t privatize police and fire, but Public Works and Human Resources? There are alternative ways of dealing with these out-of-whack pensions, and some of them might require a little thinking outside the box. (We won’t even get into the 85 percent health coverage Geneva city employees receive.)

Of course, hiring private companies may get you campaign contributions, but it doesn’t get you votes.

What drives me nuts is, the only politician in Kane County candidate who ran on a platform of freezing a property tax levy is Lauzen. But just as we voted for the school building referendum that put District 304 in a deep debt hole, we keep re-electing mopes who take the tax money and run.

And that mentality runs right on through down to the Library Board. Who cares if you neighbor loses their house?

Please don’t even try to use the slacker’s excuse that you didn’t vote, because that’s even worse. All a low turnout does is give the insiders an edge. For God’s sake! Kevin Burns ran for county chair on a platform of potentially raising taxes.

Don’t tell it me it can’t be done, either! By increasing employee insurance deductibles, Blackberry Township Supervisor Dave Richmond kept that tax levy flat!

So when you look at your first 2012 property tax bill, don’t bother Senator Lauzen, and don’t waste your time whining about it, either. Instead, trot up those stairs to the master bath and take a good long look at yourself in that massive mirror over the sink.

There’s the reason your property taxes are so high.

Jeff Ward May 07, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Dear Geneva, I'm not saying they need to go away, but in one short decade, they will not nearly need the space they need now. Expanding, like the Sugar Grove Library did, will only lead to money problems. Jeff
Jeff Ward May 07, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Rudy, That's funny! I thought the same thing about... Jeff
Rich Walker May 07, 2012 at 08:27 PM
"not only would I win, but I'd win big." Really? Well, put your money where your giant ego is, and, let's see if you have any of the yank you claim to have. Then again, with all the smooches you placed on Lauzen's posterior during the primary, perhaps you should just go for the title of "Toady To The Chairman."
Jeff Ward May 07, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Rich, I wouldn't want to take your title! After everything you did to earn it! Jeff
Mike B. May 07, 2012 at 11:56 PM
My tax bill has been rising as my assessment keeps falling. My assessment went down again this year, but the tax rate shot up. The schools are 70% of my property tax bill. It's not hard to do the math on this one. Until we get the schools' endless appetite for spending under control, none of this is ever going to end...
Sandra Ellis May 08, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Jeff, it would help if you present facts. "Had it been caught at the 2007 time, you bet I would've had something to say about ignoring consultants or fudging the numbers, but it's not even the same board any more and it's not that egregious a crime ". Here are the facts. 1. Three current school board members were on the 2006 school board - Mary Stith, Tim Moran, Bill Willson. The Superintendent at the time is still the same, Dr. Kent Mutchler. 2. The 2006 Kasarda Enrollment Consultant report (containing the projections that were NOT used but were advertised to be "verified" by Kasarda) was not posted on the School District Website until AFTER March 17, 2012. The report was not publicly available on the school district website where it could be double checked by the public against what was "advertised". Now that you know the facts, what is it that you have to say? Notwithstanding that you don't consider it an egregious crime? Aren't you even bothered that no one knows how the numbers got inflated by 1273 students over the consultant's projections? How do you solve a problem when you don't understand how you got there in the first place?
Steve Warrenfeltz May 08, 2012 at 01:25 AM
For the years 2007-2009, Kane County Illinois ranked the 30th highest amongst all taxing counties in the United States on the basis of Median Property Taxes Paid on Homes ... they ranked 52nd in terms of Percentage of Home Value and 24th in terms of a Percentage of Income ... that's out of 1822 taxing counties. Inflation for the past three years has been 3.1%, 1.7% and negative .4% ... the 2011 mulitplier for Aurora Township was just shy of 16% and Batavia was right around 12%. Al of this amidst high unemployment, record numbers of foreclosures and short sales, and a failing quality of life for a significant portion of our population. The notion that we are to blame may be true, however, try and change things ... I'm interested in your detailed plan as to how we, the general public, can effect a change quickly. If sound and effective, then I will vote for you for President ... the hell with being Mayor of Geneva!
jim May 08, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Jeff, The point is to find out what really happened so it doesn't happen again.I'm surprised with your comment.How can we move forward if we can't learn from the past ? Why are you so against finding out where the process went wrong ? jim
Sandra Ellis May 08, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Jeff, sorry you feel it necessary to insult someone you've never met? In fact, you are broad brushing many that you've never met. This is a concerned group of taxpayers who are educating themselves about why our taxes are out of whack. Your misinformation doesn't help. I only ask that when you make statements, you have a responsibility to be factual. Shooting the messenger isn't a solution, it's mean spirited.
Bob McQuillan May 08, 2012 at 02:28 AM
"Public bodies will always tends towards their own self-interest unless and until someone else is watching". Well someone is watching and we have been since 2008. Yet, in your wisdom, you still find a way to discredit us and not the administration and school board. At most, there were ten people who knew that the community was being lied to in 2007. Lets give the benefit of the doubt that the 7 board members didn't know what was going on. Even though each board member received physical copies of the Kasarda report on February 22, 2006, lets give the benefit of the doubt that they didn't know what was happening. That leaves three people in the mix: Mike Jacoby, Rebecca Allard and Dr. Kent Mutchler. How hard is it for the current board to ask three people where the numbers came from? This referendum resulted in $80 million in new debt and $38 million in old debt refinanced at a higher rate. That is why your taxes increased this year and will increase till at least 2027. You now use percentage increase as the "true" measure. Percentage means nothing, we pay our taxes with real dollars and when the school tax rate increases from $5.30 to $5.73 per thousand in one year, you have a major problem. The school tax rate has increased .98 since 2006 and is 70% of the total property tax bill. The administration and/or board intentionally deceived the taxpayers with inflated projections. Someone committed fraud and they are being protected. You might be ok with that but I'm not.
Jeff Ward May 08, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Jim, In this case, what's the point? There will never be another school building referendum in Geneva again. Thus there will never be a repeat of this situation. So again I will say, what's the point of going back? What will it solve? Will it make your property taxes lower? How will it make the current situation better? I want a solution and not recriminations. Jeff
Jeff Ward May 08, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Sandra, What I have to say is I'm not bothered because I would expect nothing less! Public bodies will always tends towards their own self-interest unless and until someone else is watching. I always take that into account and adjust whenever I walk into a polling place. With very rare exception, It has, is, and always will be that way. And anyone that believes any different is either one can short of a six pack or very naive. This is nothing more than a game for FACTS. They don't want a solution because then it would be no fun. You wont be happy until you have the school board weeping and begging forgiveness at your feet. FACTS doesn't want solutions, they want to stand imperiously correct! There's nothing confusing about how we got here - it's trying to go back to old enrollment numbers that's the real obfuscation. We have new school buildings that may not be needed and we have debt. That's the problem. It cannot be undone. The solution is in moving forward. Jeff
Jeff Ward May 08, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Sandra, There was no insult and as for mean spirited, FACTS makes me look like Mahatma Gandhi. I want a solution. I want my property taxes lower. And FACTS, by their insistent finger pointing and intimidation is making that almost impossible. Jeff
Jeff Ward May 08, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Steve, Minimally, vote the insiders out. Maximally, run for office and force them out. Jeff
Bob McQuillan May 08, 2012 at 02:58 AM
Jeff, your whole game is to insult people. So far you could have been elected Kane County Board Chairman and now Mayor of the City of Geneva. The only problem is people need to want you to be in any of those positions and you'll never take the risk of finding out the truth. It is much easier for you to sit at home and bash those individuals and groups who are trying to make change happen. But I guess that is what you see is the role of an opinion writer.
Political PR Machine May 08, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Here is a novel idea- it probably wouldn't fly, but try it on for size: Have one rate, call it the .... property tax rate... and apply it to the recorded fair market value of the property (that would be the price at which it most recently sold). There you have it - a real tax rate, based on a real property value. All other gimmicks, i.e.: mill rates, "Constant Factor", Fudge Factor, and all other artificial methods currently used to justify unmanaged expenses with no accountability) would be eliminated. This would: 1) Allow homeowners to know the real tax rate 2) Stop playing smoke and mirror finances, that pollute reality and promote excuses for not being able to balance a budget 3) Show people what the real costs are, based on real market values 4) Be based on reality, and not estimates, guesstimates, and politics.
Political PR Machine May 08, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Our current system is manipulated, politicized, and hides the level of expenses that are incurred, sanitizing them with smoke and mirror terms without full disclosure, rather than just being honest with the tax payers. Why is it done this way? Because if people saw the real tax rates, and if the leaders were held to be accounable for managing within their means, the reality of how huge the deficit and gap is would be so overwhelming that we would feel like Greeks... or Spaniards... or soon to be Italians... bankrupt and stillliving in a dream world. Balanced budgets without smoke and mirrors may be a hard pill to swallow... it is the only method based on reality, that is based on something we have lost touch with... allowing tomorrow's generation to spend tomorrow's money, rather than us spending it today.
Political PR Machine May 08, 2012 at 04:41 AM
And in an effort to be ever so unpopular, try this one on also- where are the horse and buggy-whip craftsmen? Where are the leather craftsmen? Where are the steam engine manufacturers? What's the point? Technology allows the library of congress to be stored in a personal computer for all practical purposes. I probably could guess that Dewey Decimal and Bill Gates wouldn't get along, but Bill Gates would likely win if they had to meet the current market's needs... and the martketplace seems to be saying e-learning, e-libraries, and computer libraries may be the technology that leads us into a new frontier. Perhaps these macro trends can help to determine budget priorities going forward.
Jack May 08, 2012 at 06:42 AM
Jeff, You say you want a real solution? Well, refusing to call a spade a spade makes you look like part of the problem. I suppose there's some sort of marketing advantage to having an Opinion writer who gets people talking. I'd prefer one who also has the best interests of the community in mind -- one who doesn't turn a deaf ear to public servants who won't tell the truth. You tell us it's the institution: "I'm not bothered because I would expect nothing less! Public bodies will always tends towards their own self-interest...." It might well be a "tendency", but it's still lying. It's committing a fraud on the tax payers. It does seem to be a "tendency" for politicians to do things that would be criminal in any other line of work. And it's a "tendency" for thieves to rob banks because that's where the money is. Using the highest expert projection for the school referendum would have been a "tendency" toward "self-interest". Adding a huge and _undisclosed_ fudge factor to those projections should be a chargeable offense. A major part of the solution we should be looking for is one that makes it highly unlikely anyone will try such a trick again. The opportunity will inevitably present itself at some future time, even though we can't presently imagine it. If we ignore past offenses, then a new generation of citizens will have to learn the same lesson the same hard way in the future. So, what is your solution, Jeff? We'd all love to see the plan.
ann holt-harris May 08, 2012 at 10:35 AM
I may be wrong but the increase in the Kane County Forest Preserve isn't because they are buying land while it is cheap because they use money from the sale of bonds that the taxpayers supported. The Kane County Forest Preserve doesn't seem to be accountable to anyone. Once they buy land, they seem compelled to develop it which takes money. So, in a way you are right about gold plated outhouses. They are an agency that flies under the radar screen so to speak. They don't know the meaning of the word preserve. They think of themselves as a giant park district rather than a conservation agency and much of the land they own has become dead zones of invasive species due to their lack of appropriate conservation practices and desire to develop the sites they own for recreation. I for one would never vote yes for another bond issue they put on the ballot.
Jeff Ward May 08, 2012 at 12:05 PM
John R., This is exactly why we need you to continue your fine efforts to form a taxpayer group that's interested in solutions and not relentlessly bashing people. We need a group of citizen activists who are willing to work with the school board to come up with a workable solution and not hold them hostage. If there's anything I can do to help rally people to your cause, just say the word! Jeff Ward
Bob McQuillan May 08, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Good luck in working with this board & administration because they don't want any outside help. They refused an offer of help from an expert in the technology field because "our people know everything there is to know." Meanwhile their people purchase unnecessary equipment! They refuse to appoint a citizen financial committee because they know everything there is to know about school finance. Come to the board meetings but don't say a word because it is their business meeting. Meaning, don't attend because we can handle everything by ourselves. But they take advice from special people that work behind the scenes. Why have community in our name? Since 2006 the taxpayers have been laughed at because some knew that the community was being lied to. Now the community knows the truth and no one has any answers. Not having an answer means one thing, they have no respect for the taxpayers. They are so arrogant they feel we don't deserve an answer. How stupid do you think the residents are, of course voters looked at the projections, this whole referendum was about future enrollment growth. If you didn't use projections as a basis for your decision, what was used? Just because Jeff Ward says it's true doesn't make it true. Wake up people, go to the board meeting next Monday at 7 pm. at the vacant Coultrap Elementary School. Ask for an answer and see what response you get. Remember to smile though when you pay your property taxes because it is all about the kids!
G.Ryan May 08, 2012 at 02:51 PM
I agree Jack and Ken they have committed FRAUD here. The solution is to REMOVE them. Trust is breached and they need to RESIGN. They do not represent us taxpayers and therefore they have breached their oathed duty to us. They disrespect our FUNDS and continue to nourish their spending addiction. They treat us like school children when we attend their so-called "Board meetings" which is a joke because all they know how to do is spend our money and vote "I" for everything like a bunch a clowns that they are. Then they have this writer sugar coat their behavior to try and brainwash the taxpayers...Well, guess what Waldo we aren't going to be brainwashed anymore. So time to stay out of it with your alleged solutions scam because the only solution is REMOVAL......as they are incompetent,arrogant,narcissitic liars all wrap up in one spending package. We aren't going to be brainwashed again with their slogan "its all for the kids".
Noel G. Rooks May 08, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Whether or not the public was deceived - and it certainly appears they were - I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who voted on the issue based on those projection numbers alone. The fact is, it is water under the bridge at this point. SHould someone be held responsible? I would say yes. HOWEVER, the question I put to the Tax FACTS folks is - now what? So yes, we have this debt. What is your proposal GOING FORWARD as to how we deal with this? I've read your site, and it is an impressive group of numbers, and probably accurate. That said, as a parent of children in D304 schools, I want to know not where we've been, but where we're going. One proposal I saw bandied about was to close one of the schools. Which one? Who decides? I cannot think of any parent I know what would support that move. Many of the kids have been moved about already, including my own. No thanks. We located where we did partly because the school was close, and we moved from St Charles in part because we were not happy with the idea of our children being bussed across the river for up to an hour - that was 302's answer to lack of space and planning. I've seen comments that 304 schools "aren't that great" - have you SEEN data coming out of other suburban school districts?
Noel G. Rooks May 08, 2012 at 09:00 PM
I also always find it amusing when people complain about how much we pay in taxes out here. We do pay quite a bit, but the town in which I grew up pays way more than we do, with much more questionable academic results. The point is, the economic downturn will not last forever. Geneva draws (and has survived better than most) as a place to live because of charm, neighborhoods and schools. What we need to do rather than point fingers and hamstring the board is to find answers as to how we can best survive and position ourselves to continue to be a choice for young families to move to. Without them, we don't survive. I would hate to see Geneva become a place like where a friend of mine lives. Their axpayers failed levy after levy, and denied improvement after improvement. Now, their school is in the hands of the state, no one wants to move there, and people who do can't sell to save their lives. Many parents there are choosing private schools. Imagine your academic costs doubled - once from your taxes, and again for your tuition. Now what?
Justa H. May 09, 2012 at 12:20 AM
In 2003, Iran had Baghdad Bob. Now 10 years later he has reappeared in Illinois as Geneva Jeff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&v=W9aW1atFLMM&NR=1 Baghdad Bob was the chief misinformation officer who would present ridiculously false infomration to the people of Iran in order to ingratiate himself the ruling party. Geneva Jeff is the chief misinformation officer for anything school board related and he is willing to put forth ridiculous statements on their behalf. Geneva Jeff — what is your motivation for serving as propaganda puppet to this regime?
Justa H. May 09, 2012 at 01:00 AM
In 2003, Iraq had Baghdad Bob. Now 10 years later he has reappeared in Illinois as Geneva Jeff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&v=W9aW1atFLMM&NR=1 Baghdad Bob was the chief misinformation officer who would present ridiculously false infomration to the people of Iraq in order to ingratiate himself the ruling party. Geneva Jeff is the chief misinformation officer for anything school board related and he is willing to put forth ridiculous statements on their behalf. Geneva Jeff — what is your motivation for serving as propaganda puppet to this regime?
John R May 09, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Jeff, Thank you for the words of encouragement and support. I took quite a beating last week from the taxFact folks. I suspect the bullying/intimidation thing they have going might actually be a strategy designed to discourage supporters of 304 and the board from speaking up. But it ain't gonna work :) I've been busy talking to community leaders and residents so have not fixated on these post over the last week. We're taking it slow but I can tell you there are a lot of people out there who are very concerned about how taxFact are conducting there campaign. If your one of those people feel free to email me at District304.geneva@gmail.com Together, in a respectful manner, we can find a better way forward. Property taxes and quality education are a huge concern. Let's focus our energy on finding solutions which will benefit all of our community. John R
Jim MacRunnels May 09, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Here is the real problem...Kane County had a 21% voter turnout. Until the payers have had enough the band will play on. Two elections ago the Kane County Forest Preserve passed a $34 million bond and only 15% voted on it. How much did the KCFP portion of your bill go up? The payers continue to let things happen to them.
Patrick Madison May 28, 2013 at 04:06 PM
As a new member of the community, I have had the privilege of seeing my actual tax bill for the first time. What I can't get over is two glaring numbers...2004..$9758, 2012..$12761..what a joke. We all know that our home values have dropped, yet taxes have continued to increase. I love the "self fulfilling prophecy" that is built into the property tax code that tax levy can be and is independent of home values. Except of course when home values are high. A few interesting facts that I notice on my tax bill also..is that the Fair Cash Value of my home is $50,000 more than what my house appraised for when I bought it in June 2012? Also, Mr. Bob McQuillan is absolutely correct, the School District is exactly 67.6% of my entire tax bill and accounted for 97% of my increase for this year. I cannot help but notice all the for sale signs that have popped up in my community over this past year and I am leaning toward a good portion of the sales being initiated by the overwhelming amount of property tax. Here is a cut a paste from the Kane County Tax Assessors website and I am forced to believe that this is true. Q: My assessed value declined; why did my tax bill go up? A: Your taxes may be higher than they were last year for any or all of four general reasons: • The local governments (such as schools and municipalities) in your area may have approved a higher tax levy than last year. Bob McQuillan, to make it simple, who or whom is responsible for this. Educate me.

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