BELLEVILLE – St. Clair County Board District 12 candidate Kevin Wallace called a recent increase in the county's property tax levy of 4.99 percent, just below a 5 percent threshold that would have required a public hearing and notice to voters, “deceitful.”
“I find it deceitful that our St. Clair County Board finds it acceptable to intentionally impose a 4.99 percent levy upon our citizens and homeowners’ property tax bills,” Wallace, a Republican, told the Record.
Wallace's reference to a state "Truth in Taxation" law that took effect in 2003 requires taxing bodies seeking an increase of 5% or more to publish a notice in a newspaper and hold a public hearing for taxpayers to weigh in.
The 4.99% tax levy increase was approved by the Board by a vote of 24-5 (Democrats to Republicans) without consideration by voters on Sept. 24. The total levy for all funds of county government came to $71,468,846, up from $68,072,051 approved by the County Board in 2017.
A request for comment from Wallace’s District 12 opponent Democrat Susan Gruberman, who voted for the increase, went unreturned.
But in an Oct. 7 Facebook post, Gruberman took issue with Wallace and other Republican candidates telling voters that if elected they would lower property taxes.
"What they aren't explaining is taxing districts often increase their levies by 4.99% (the most allowed without holding a Truth in Taxation hearing), but they then abate (reduce) taxes in the Spring after the assessed values of property are known and before tax bills are issued," she wrote.
Wallace questioned why the Democrat board members would vote for a maximum levy increase rate "to avoid the public knowing."
"Abating appears to be always used as, 'Hey, look what we did for you, we are giving back to you,'" he said. "The current property tax status in St. Clair County is already one of the highest in the nation - why not find ways to be more fiscally responsible."
He added that if board members are planning on abating no matter what, "why not just vote for a minimal tax levy, versus voting in favor of the maximum?"
According to a report by Illinoispolicy.org, property taxes in St. Clair County have seen a near doubling over the past 20 years and when adjusted for inflation - an increase of around $655 per person. The report added that property taxes in St. Clair County have grown 200 times faster than median home values, a rise fueled by growing pension costs.
In spring of 2018, state lawmakers proposed a spending cap to try and limit the state’s runaway taxes by the passage of a constitutional amendment on the state budget. The proposal never made it to a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives, but proponents pledged to reintroduce the initiative next year.
Another possible reform would seek to impose a constitutional amendment that would allow changes to unearned retiree benefits.
Wallace described the County Board’s tax and spend policies as a big reason for a mass-exodus of residents leaving the area.
“There is both a fear and total distrust among citizens due to our local government leaders' ongoing taxing,” he said. “It is wrongful and unconscionable to think that the St. Clair County Board finds it acceptable to assume it will not negatively affect the affordability of our local community and home ownership.”
Wallace indicated government transparency is what people need, but aren't getting.
“Our citizens deserve to be informed of the intentions of their County Board to impose the Board’s budget shortcomings against their 30-year (home) mortgage investment,” he said.
The Illinoispolicy.org report noted that migration patterns show residents are fed up with tax increases. Between 2016 and 2017 more than 1,300 people moved from St. Clair County, and the state of Illinois as a whole has steadily lost population for the past four consecutive years.
“When polled, Illinoisans looking to plant roots elsewhere cite taxes as the primary motivating force,” the report stated.
Wallace, 51, a Belleville resident, works as a sales manager and electronics buyer at Klein’s Brand Source, a home appliance store in Fairview Heights.
He said he is running because he wants to give back to his community and make a positive difference.
“There is a very serious tax burden on all citizens, homeowners and residents in St. Clair County that is drawing a lot of concern about how the current County Board is operating,” Wallace said. “I strongly believe it is time to look in-depth at all the operating costs in St. Clair County.”
Gruberman was appointed in 2017 to fill the District 12 seat formerly held by Angela Grossman-Roewe. Gruberman formerly worked as an accountant for the St. Clair Township and as a treasurer of the organization’s Democrat Club. She also served as a controller for the Illinois Health & Sports Foundation in Belleville, and as an accountant for the Belleville firm of Kerber, Eck & Brackel.