A national organization that seeks to promote limited government, lower taxes and more freedom has weighed in on an upcoming ballot initiative in the small, yet lately controversial, village of Cahokia.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is encouraging residents of the Parkfield Terrace neighborhood in unincorporated Cahokia to vote "no" on an annexation proposal that will appear as a referendum item on the March 15 ballot.
Andrew Nelms, deputy director for the Illinois division of AFP, said that if residents approve annexation, it would increase their property tax by approximately 38 percent.
The move to annex Parkfield Terrace has been criticized as being purely political in order to regain Democrat votes believed to be defecting to the Republican party, following a change in village administration last year.
Nelms said his organization analyzes all tax-related referenda that go before voters so that it can offer an opinion. In the upcoming primary election, the Cahokia annexation proposal is one of 120 facing Illinois voters.
But when Nelms went looking for answers from Cahokia, he said that he "never before, after reviewing some 700 tax referenda" ran into as much resistance getting "basic public information" as when he asked questions about the Parkfield Terrace annexation.
Nelms said that he called the village to ask for a per-household calculation of the tax impact, but would not get his calls returned.
He said he often doesn't need to place calls to entities seeking tax increases because searches can be done on their websites, which sometimes provide tax impact calculators.
"I couldn't do it (for Cahokia)," he said. "They took down their website."
Nelms was told he had to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, he said, which he called "highly irregular."
In the FOIA request he submitted, he also asked for any communication between village staff, elected or appointed officials regarding the proposed annexation.
The eventual response - that the village "has no such documents" other than his email to Clerk Duncan and no information about the tax impact - came from an attorney from another firm other than village attorney Robert Sprague.
He said that he was also told that if he wanted to know the financial impact of the referendum, he would need to ask the county Assessor's office.
"I called a gal and she said, 'I have no idea why they would refer you to me,'" he said.
Nelms said it was the County Clerk's office which helped him determine that the average market equalized assessed valuation (EAV) in the proposed annexation area was $33,000.
"Those folks currently pay about $745 in total property tax," he said. "With the addition of the village levy their tax would go up $281.38 per year, a 38 percent increase."
Nelms said that if he was a "regular person" who did not have time to make phone calls during the work day, "I'd have no shot" at finding out how much it was going to cost.
Village clerk Richard Duncan was contacted for comment, but he had not returned a call by press time.