Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Americans for Prosperity continues campaign against property tax hike in Cahokia annexation referendum

By Taryn Phaneuf | Mar 14, 2016

Believing that new taxes won’t solve local government problems in Illinois, the state’s chapter of Americans For Prosperity continues its outreach to voters, urging them to oppose tax increase referendums in Tuesday’s elections.

The group says there are 120 tax-hike referendums on ballots across the state.

In the village of Cahokia, where the annexation of the Parkfield Terrace neighborhood could raise property taxes by 38 percent for those residents, AFP-Illinois is campaigning to educate voters about the undisclosed ramifications of agreeing to the referendum, Andrew Nelms, deputy director for the organization, told the Record.

“The Cahokia referendum is particularly troubling because ... there’s a disturbing lack of transparency,” Nelms said.

Efforts to educate Cahokia voters on the referendum emphasize the lack of information provided by officials and highlight a property tax increase as "an immediate consequence" of annexation. A mailer to voters in the village reads, “Cahokia wants to annex your land and raise your property taxes, but they won’t even say by how much.”

Nelms said that when he inquired about the financial impact of annexation, he couldn’t get a straight answer.

After filing a formal request for the information, Nelms said he was told the village had no information on how taxes would change for residents in the proposed area. Using the average market equalized assessed valuation, which he got from the St. Clair County Clerk’s office, he calculated that property taxes would increase a little more than $280 per year with the addition of the Cahokia levy on an average-valued home. On average, residents currently pay about $745 in total property tax.

The referendum asks, “Shall the territory described below be annexed to the Village of Cahokia?” Then it launches into a description of the proposed area. 

In all, it’s more than 600 words - longer than this article - and “doesn’t give the voters any information as to the financial impact,” Nelms said.

In general, he’s found that voters aren’t aware that the referendum will be included on the ballot Tuesday. Since referendums are placed at the end of ballots and worded in confusing ways, he thinks voters have difficulty discerning their impact.

That’s why the AFP advocates for taxpayers at the state and the local level in Illinois. It looks at referenda around the state and focuses on those that would raise taxes or debt and informs voters of their impact. Since it started the effort in 2012, all but four of the state’s 102 counties have voted on tax referendums, Nelms said.

Combining their work in previous elections, AFP-Illinois has helped defeat about 90 of 150 tax increases they focused on, adding up to more than $500 million, he added. But that’s more than a metric they use to tout their success. It shows the scale of the fight.

“It’s an example of how much local governments are trying to take from taxpayers,” he said.

The 28 referendums getting the organization’s attention this election cycle include property taxes and sales taxes, among others. Illinois has the second highest property tax in the country, Nelms said.

Couple that with the number of people moving away — also the second-highest — and “obviously, there’s a problem,” Nelms said. “We think that creating new taxes isn’t the solution.”

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