Belleville residents had the opportunity to sound off at a public hearing regarding a proposed 11.98 percent increase in the city’s property tax levy.

If passed, the levy would rise to nearly $11.3 million from the current levy of just under $10.1 million. The meeting was held in the City Council Chambers at Belleville City Hall on Dec. 11.

The increased revenues would bring an additional $1.2 million into the city’s coffers, with almost all the new money going toward Belleville’s police and fire pension funds, as well as health insurance costs. Meanwhile, money for Belleville’s playground and library funds would slightly decrease under the proposal.

The proposed property tax levy increase is more than twice as high as the 4.67 percent levy increase passed unanimously by the Belleville City Council in December 2016.

Unfortunately, the numbers show pumping more money into Belleville’s police and fire pension funds has been somewhat of a futile effort.

From 2012 to 2016, taxpayer contributions to Belleville’s fire pension fund rose by more than 34 percent, according to the Illinois Department of Insurance’s 2017 Biennial Report. However, despite the large uptick in city dollars, the fund remains in dire shape, with less than 43 cents on hand for every dollar needed to pay out future benefits, and more pensioners than active participants.

Despite the increase in funding, the pension’s funding ratio climbed less than two percentage points in four years, to 42.9 percent in 2016 from 41.4 percent in 2012.

Belleville’s police pension fund is faring little better, with a funding level of only 53.2 percent.

Belleville residents shouldn’t have to put up with ever-increasing property tax bills while growing pension costs swallow up funding for basic government services. The need for reform is evident.

This persistent problem demonstrates the need for state lawmakers to protect homeowners from skyrocketing property tax bills. Passing a property tax freeze on homeowners’ actual bills (not just the levies of local governments), and requiring voter approval for property tax hikes are two powerful reforms that would go a long way for families struggling to pay higher property taxes as their own incomes stagnate.

Unless real spending reform happens in both the Statehouse and at the local level, it’s likely Belleville residents will have to prepare to pay more.

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