Madison County voters will have the opportunity to vote to lower the maximum property tax levy for county government, and county GOP chairman Chris Slusser said he thinks proponents will be able to easily convince voters.
“I don’t know who would vote against it at this point,” Slusser told the Record.
The referendum asks voters to decide whether to lower the maximum levy to support the county’s general fund from 25 cents per $100 of assessed value to 20 cents per $100. It would not affect the school property tax rate, which makes up a larger portion of a landowner’s property tax bill.
On July 6, a special county electoral board approved a petition to put the referendum on the November ballot after an investigation into the validity of the signatures that Slusser called politically motivated.
In a news release, Slusser accused opponents of the petition, including County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, who is running for re-election as a Democrat, and Sheriff John Lakin of using scare tactics, including alleging the rate reduction would cut funding for law enforcement.
Slusser stated in the release that the decrease in property tax revenue would affect the county’s surplus, which is transferred into a fund for capital projects.
“Any cuts would come straight out of the surplus that the county board levies each year to transfer into their political slush fund, disguised as the ‘capital projects fund,’” Slusser stated. “So if any cuts to law enforcement were to occur, it would be because County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan decided to make cuts to law enforcement instead of his political slush fund.”
The petition’s supporters gathered about 10,000 signatures. Slusser said county Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, who is challenging Dunstan for the county board chairman position, deserves credit for the signatures. He said Prenzler found volunteers willing to circulate the petition and also handled paying a few people to do so, to help ensure the more than 8,000 signatures required to have the petition accepted were gathered.
Slusser said those who criticized the petition effort for using about a dozen paid circulators were being disingenuous, as large signature drives often require extra resources.
“There are always going to be paid circulators,” he said of countywide and statewide referendum efforts.
After the petition was filed, two county residents, including former Edwardsville police chief and city administrator Ben Dickmann, filed objections, alleging many of the signatures were invalid. The board ended up reviewing all of the signatures, which Slusser criticized.
"The frustrating part was the board took it upon themselves to do the dirty work for the objectors from the Democrat Party by examining all 10,000 signatures," he said.
In all, more than 1,500 signatures were invalidated by the board, but the petition still had more than the required number. Slusser said he objected to the fact that every signature was examined by staff in the county clerk’s office, which used county money.
"That added insult to injury," he said.