To the Editor:
On Monday, May 24, the Madison County Treasurer's Office began mailing out the 2009 real estate tax bills, the first step in the process of collecting tax dollars on behalf of the more than 200 separate taxing districts located within Madison County.
Again this year we are offering property owners a number of options for the payment of real estate taxes in an attempt to lessen the financial hardship of making just two, relatively large tax payments. Property owners can pay their taxes in one, two, three or four installments. The first payment date is July 7 with subsequent payments due on Sept. 7, Oct. 7 and Dec. 7.
For taxpayers who feel they are bearing the brunt of the tax burden, it is easy to overlook the myriad of essential services they receive from police, fire protection and ambulance service, to educating our children and grandchildren who will inherit the responsibility for our country and our society, to road and bridge maintenance, safe drinking water, sanitary sewers and numerous other services.
The tax burden for Madison County residents is magnified by the "perfect storm" we all recently experienced -- a national economic recession, plunging property values and double-digit unemployment that resulted in substantial decreases in local government sales and property tax revenues that exceeded already pessimistic revenue projections.
The uneasiness of taxpayers also increases with every negative report from the governor's office and the legislature on the near bankrupt status of the State of Illinois and plans to reduce funding for education, make drastic cuts in the percentage of sales tax revenue shared with county and municipal governments, and substantially increase miscellaneous fees for residents.
In Madison County, your elected leaders have for some time displayed a sense of urgency to operate in a financially conservative manner, something not seen on the state level. Under the leadership of Chairman Alan J. Dunstan, the county board and countywide elected officials, steps have been taken to ensure county government continually operates within a balanced budget and a financially conservative manner with very little long-term debt.
Madison County officials have reduced spending by the elimination of staff through attrition, retirements and, most recently, layoffs. We have saved taxpayer dollars by embracing new technologies and incorporating other efficiencies. As a result of that leadership and those decisions and despite decreasing revenues, Madison County government is in position to maintain a level of service our residents expect and deserve.
As your Madison County Treasurer, I have operated an office based on the strategy that capitalizes on what resources and revenue we have, not what we do not. A lean, efficient office that not only provides the best possible service to the people of Madison County, but an office that is better prepared to serve the people in the coming years.
Implementation of that strategy has resulted in a Treasurer's Office that is open to public scrutiny, an office that collaborates with other county officials to achieve goals and serve the public, and an office committed to clear, open communication with county residents.
One of the most unpleasant tasks for the treasurer is coordinating the annual sale of delinquent taxes on properties in Madison County to private companies as required by state statute. For some, that "perfect storm" meant they could not pay their taxes and now have to deal with the companies that have paid the taxes on the property in question. But even in these difficult times, Madison County recorded a decline of approximately 17.5 percent in delinquent real estate taxes for the 2008 tax cycle.
Last year, the Treasurer's Office, with the support of Chairman Dunstan and the Madison County Board, offered property owners a number of payment options to make it easier to pay their taxes.
Our goal is to work with property owners to do what we can to help, not hurt them.
We also revised this year's tax sale in order to promote additional participation and transparency. We conducted the sale in a new open auction format and, as a result, we were in many cases, able to reduce the interest homeowners are required to pay, effectively saving them a lot of money. Every action we took was designed to guarantee a fair and independent sale of the delinquent taxes on property in Madison County, showing our residents that we are undertaking this somewhat unpleasant task in a fair and open manner. The statistics on this year's sale versus last year is on our website.
As I continue to meet with senior citizens, community leaders and elected officials from every part of Madison County and talk about the real estate tax process and the operation of the Treasurer's Office, one of the most important points I make is that every taxpayer has the right to appeal their real estate taxes. Although real estate taxes provide the revenue necessary to provide the aforementioned essential services, no taxpayer should have to pay a dollar more than what is fair and right. And with depressed property values, the value of your home or property today may not be what it was in 2008 or 2007.
During the many question and answer sessions I hold with county residents, the two questions I most often receive are "How do we go about appealing our property taxes?" and "where does all the money we pay for property taxes go?"
To effectively provide answers to questions related to the property tax process for everyone in the county and not just with those I meet, we have established the HELP Desk, a specialized support area designed to provide a single point of contact for all services provided by the Treasurer's Office. By calling 618/692-6260, visiting our website at www.madcotreasurer.org or simply by coming to our office in the Madison County Administration Building, residents can get quick answers to any question they may have.
Although the breakdown of which taxing districts receive revenue from real estate taxes varies by township, on average the 13 school districts in Madison County receive 63 percent of the tax dollars collected. Cities and villages receive 16 percent of the revenue, other taxing districts (community colleges, fire protection, road and bridge, libraries, etc.) receive eight percent, Madison County receives eight percent and five percent of your tax dollars go to township governments.
While we hope the economy in Madison County will continue to recover and the tax burden lessened, that new jobs will be created and unemployment will appreciably decrease, the fact remains that as a result of strong leadership and sound financial planning during these difficult times Madison County, and specifically the Treasurer's Office, has been managed responsibly and will emerge from this crisis stronger and in position to capitalize on the opportunities that will exist as our economy recovers.
Madison County Treasurer