Proponents of a ballot measure to reduce property taxes in Madison County hope enough of the 10,000 signatures gathered will withstand scrutiny to get the question to voters in November.
"That's been our goal all along," Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler said Friday shortly after a press conference marking the petition drive's end. "We wanted to get those extra signatures, just to be sure."
Prenzler was joined by Dr. Mike Firsching, a local veterinarian, former Congressional candidate and another strong supporter of the proposed ballot measure, in submitting the petition's signatures to the county clerk’s office.
Firsching also participated in last year's petition drive to stop Edwardsville School District 7 from borrowing against its working cash fund.
Proponents of that ballot initiative began circulating their petition in March in seeking 17,000 signatures. That would have been 9,000 signatures more than the 8,000 required to put the measure before voters, proponents have said.
Each signature needs to be from a registered voter living in the county, and that's why the higher number of signatures had been the goal. Prenzler said he expects that enough of the 10,000 signatures collected will pass muster. In the end, supporters turned in 1,051 petition copies, most with at least 10 signatures, all gathered by 150 volunteers, Prenzler said.
"We've been on a mission," Prenzler said. "When you're on a mission like this, you really need to focus."
This is the question that would go before voters:
"Shall the maximum tax rate for general county purposes of Madison County, Illinois, be established at 0.20 percent of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein instead of 0.25 percent, the maximum rate otherwise applicable to the next taxes to be extended?"
If the question makes it onto the ballot and then is approved by referendum, the county would be limited to $9.3 million in property tax collections. If approved, the highest tax allowable on a single family home valued at $100,000 would drop from $83.33 to $66.67, according to the petition.
However, the repercussions could be significant. Madison County Sheriff John Lakin told the Record in a previous interview that his department's budget would lose about $600,000 if the referendum passes.
That, Lakin said, could result in layoffs in his department, starting with the Madison County Jail. A reduction in his staff would, in turn, require reducing the jail's population, he said.
State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons has said his office could lose $200,000 if the measure passes.
Both Gibbons and Lakin have challenged the proponents' projections.
Prenzler said he was disappointed about the misrepresentation of the effect the tax cuts would have on Madison County's Sheriff Department.
"It's not been my intent at all that any sheriff's deputy should lose their job," he said. "And I don't think there is any chance that would happen."
Prenzler claims property tax revenues have, for years, far exceeded the county's need and that a property tax reduction would not reduce the amounts raised below levels the county would need to fund its services. Prenzler also said that some sheriff's deputies have told him privately that they know the sheriff's statements in opposition to the tax cut are politically motivated.
Prenzler also referred to the latest salvo in his long running feud with Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, taking issue with a press release recently issued on Dunstan's behalf criticizing Prenzler and the petition drive.
Though the acrimony between them predates the present election cycle, Dunstan, a Democrat and incumbent Madison County Board Chairman, and Republican Prenzler both are running highly contentious campaigns for chairmanship of the county.
Dunstan first was elected board chairman in 2002 by other board members and then worked to make the chairmanship an elected office. In 2004, Dunstan the county's first voter-elected board chairmen, ran on a platform that highlighted the county's economic development.
Prenzler, currently the GOP’s only countywide officeholder, was elected treasurer in 2010. He has since publicly questioned Dunstan’s claims about the county's cost efficiency and accused Dunstan of padding the county's budget.
On April 27, the Committee To Elect Alan Dunstan issued a release accusing Prenzler of using the tax referendum petition drive as a fundraising vehicle for his political campaign.
"Mr. Prenzler is making wildly inaccurate and misleading claims about the money residents will save as part of a tax referendum he is pushing via a petition drive," the press release said. "Now, we have discovered the whole enterprise is just a bait and switch for members of the public so that he can raise money for his campaign for County Board chairman."
Prenzler said that none of that is true. "This isn't political," he said.
"The issue is about excessive reserves. This is about letting the voters have the opportunity to reduce their property taxes. It's a pity it has to be done this way but, well, there it is."