Zion-Benton News

Zion approves an increase in the tax levy

By Mona Shannon
Zion-Benton News staff

For the past few years the city of Zion has maintained the tax rate and actually decreased it slightly last year. This year facing loss of revenue and a large deficit, the Zion City Council approved an increase in the tax levy.

Finance Director David Knabel recommended setting the levy at the maximum amount allowed by law. He explained that due to Illinois law local governments must set their tax levy in December although they will not be setting a budget until May. The tax levy is a request for the amount of money needed to operate and it is typical to ask for the maximum because it cannot be increased later. The county will set the actual tax rate next year based on the levy and equalized assessed valuation.

Instead the council approved a more moderate levy of $6,370, 358, an increase of 1.71 percent. This will leave a deficit in the general fund of $1,642,703. Knabel said the additional cost on a $100,000 home will be about $15 a year.

The city currently has cash reserves of $1.2 million and the council will determine at budget time how best to use that in offsetting the deficit, but despite the reserves, deep budget cuts will be needed.

Commissioner Al Hill pointed out that the city must get through two years of significant cuts to the budget before it will begin to receive new revenue from the hospital expansion now under construction. The hospital addition is expected to be complete late next year but the city will not receive the added tax revenue until 2017.

Hill said in order to eliminate the deficit , the city must cut services or bring in new business. “For years the city has been cutting the budget and laying people off. We have to get control of the taxes,” he said. Hill said the city recently lost a huge business to Pleasant Prairie, Wis. even though the city offered the same incentives as Pleasant Prairie. The business said taxes were too high here. Hill said economic development is not just the responsibility of the city, but of all the taxing bodies.

Commissioner Frank Flammini pointed out that local property taxes aren’t the whole problem, large businesses leave or stay away largely because of the corporate tax in Illinois.

During the public hearing some residents said they simply cannot afford more taxes. Mayor Lane Harrison explained the city’s portion of the tax bill is between 12-14 percent of the total bill. School districts account for the largest percentage of the tax bill. He encouraged residents to take their concerns to the other taxing bodies.

Annual gift
On behalf of Zion Solutions, Community Outreach Manager Larry Booth, presented a check for $7,500 each to the Zion Fire/Rescue and Police Departments. The annual checks are in appreciation for the services provided by police and fire. Zion Solutions is decommissioning the Zion nuclear power plant.

Fire personnel changes
The council approved a request from Zion Fire Chief John Lewis to increase the number of lieutenant/paramedics from three to six and reduce the number of firefighter/paramedics by three, from 18 to 15.

Chief Lewis said reorganization of the chain of command is part of effort to meet the increased volume of calls. He said there were 3,800 calls last year and 4,050 so far this year. He expects it to hit 4,200 by year’s end.

The council approved the promotions of Rich Reich, Rocky Campanella, Dane Costello to lieutenant.

Hebron Avenue Townhomes
The council approved a request from Zion Associates, owner of the Hebron Townhomes, to consolidate its lots so it can add a single family residence for the manager and a community center and maintenance garage.

Hebron Townhomes consist of 14 buildings housing 63 apartments located from 2705 to 2719 Hebron Avenue. Zion Associates plans to upgrade the existing buildings with new roofs, new heating and cooling systems and to repair existing parking lots
As part of the plan, the city also vacated Hebron Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets and adjacent alleyways.

TIF request
The council approved a request for funds from Tax Incremental Financing District 1 for installation of a fire alarm and fire suppression system at 2647 Sheridan Road. Maria Alvarez recently purchased the property and intends to use it as a banquet hall and quinceanera boutique. Finance Director Knabel said the upgrades would be needed for any business to make it viable. The TIF Board recommended support in an amount not to exceed $85,000.

City water rate
When the city increased its water rates last year after keeping them frozen for nearly 10 years Finance Director Knabel said he planned to provide the council with a rate analysis each year when new rates are received from the Lake County Public Water District.

The new rates were received in August. He said there is a 7.1 percent increase in the new rate per 1,000 gallons however, debt service charge and coverage amounts remained the same and the repair and replacement charge decreased.

He said taking it all into consideration the overall rate per 1,000 gallons decreased by approximately 3.1 percent. Taken in conjunction with contractural increases for wages and other costs within the water fund, the operational expenses are expected to remain relatively flat.

The council approved the staff’s recommendation to make no change in the water/sewer rate this year.

Electronic recycling
Commissioner Flammini reminded everyone that this Saturday, Dec. 20, is the last electronic recycling event in Zion. SWALCO has ended the program. The program was far more successful than the state anticipated and there is no more funding from the state.

State law prohibits electronics in landfills, so you may not put it out with your trash and recycling. Check swalco.org for a list of sites such as Best Buy which accept some electronic items. Be aware there may be restrictions and/or a charge.

Flammini said House Bill 4042 would fix the problem and encouraged residents to contact their local representatives.

Challenge coins
Zion Police Chief Steve Dumyahn and six police officers presented city council members each with the department’s new challenge coins. He explained he history of the coins which date back to World War I and said it is an honor to receive one of the coins.

Dumyahn said the challenge coins instill camaraderie, pride, a sense of unity and a connection to the department.