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They’re smiling in Utica but are you?

Property tax bills have been mailed and there are winners and losers

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Admit it, Utica: When they promised to build a new school and cut your tax rates, you didn’t really believe it, did you? The news seemed too good to be true.

Well, the tax bills are in and Waltham Elementary pulled off the seemingly impossible. The new school is nearly finished and, yes, the district cut its tax rate by 12 cents, or about 3½%.

“Waltham School is excited to confirm that we have held true to our promise of giving our community a reduction in taxes all while building a new state-of-the-art school for our children,” superintendent Kristi Eager said.

Utica Mayor David Stewart will pay Waltham about $10 more than he did in 2018 — his overall bill jumped $100 to $2,960 — but that’s not because his rates went up, it’s because his home is worth more. Stewart’s taxable value climbed 5%, which is what usually happens when the realtor finds out there’s a new school in the neighborhood.

“We can’t wait for the finished product,” a much-pleased Stewart said, “and I think there’s potential for more homes to be built with the addition of the new school.”

It also marks back-to-back years of tax declines for the village. Last year, Stewart’s tax bill fell $735, or 20% off the bottom line, after Utica-area TIF districts were renegotiated strongly in taxpayer favor. Waltham’s nearly-finished school extends a taxpayer-friendly trend that Stewart would like to see continue.

The tax man came knocking again and not everybody in the Illinois Valley will be quite as pleased as in Utica. The NewsTribune completed a comparison of tax bills mailed to our mayors and while nobody’s tax rates skyrocketed this year — most rates inched up by single digits — our home values didn’t climb much, if they climbed at all.

Bureau County taxpayers are apt to be happier than their neighbors. Spring Valley Mayor Walt Marini will pay $3,605 in taxes this summer, up $81 from last year, but that figure rose because his home is worth more. The taxable value of his home climbed 3% while his tax rates fell 7 cents, a best-of-both-worlds development.

“It’s good for everybody,” Marini said. “We all enjoy when our tax rates go down and our property values go up.”

Taxes in Princeton slid, too, but for different reasons. Mayor Joel Quiram saw his yearly total fall off $60 (from $3,420 last year to $3,360 this year) as county, city and Princeton Township rates fell by about 12 cents combined. Unlike in Spring Valley, however, the taxable value of Quiram’s home slid $155 (less than 1%) which tempers his good news.

East of the Bureau County line, home values were more or less flat and overall tax rates generally were not cut.

Peru Mayor Scott Harl’s home value rose a modest 1% while his overall tax rate jumped 7 cents. He’s cutting a check for $4,033, up from last year’s $3,948. About half of that increase is going to Peru Elementary, which raised its rate nearly 5 cents, the single-biggest jump on Peru’s tax bill.

In La Salle, Mayor Jeff Grove is on the hook for $54 more, thanks to a municipal tax rate that jumped 14 cents plus another quarter to cover pension obligations.

Oglesby largely held its tax rates in check and that means mayor Dom Rivara will pay the tax man just $6 more than he did last year.

Grove and Rivara would be happier if their homes hadn’t been devalued a bit. The taxable value on Grove’s home slid $16 and Rivara’s slid $15, a negligible decline of less than 1% for both.

Tax rates climbed more sharply in Granville, where Mayor Jared Baker is cutting a $2,300 check to the county offices in Hennepin.

Baker’s tax rate jumped 20 cents and his out-of-pocket climbed about $190, and more than half that increase is going to the village hall. Baker said the village increase paid for infrastructure improvements such as repairs to McCoy Street.

“And actually, we’re still seeing the fruits of that,” he said. “It came in about $100,000 under budget and we’re using that money to do more projects downtown.”

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930.

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Tom Collins is the NewsTribune Senior Reporter. He can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com.

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