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Some locals are paying more in property taxes, but there are reasons to be happy

Home values up, tax rates down in several communities across La Salle, Bureau counties

He saved $10 on a tax bill that came to nearly $6,500, but Mendota Mayor David Boelk is pretty happy with his property taxes.

Boelk’s home is worth more than last year (a 2.5% increase), and his total tax rate fell by 25 cents. Sure, he’d like to save more than $10 a bill that requires him to cut a pair of checks for more than $3,200. But any time values rise and rates fall, it’s a best-of-both-worlds scenario for City Hall.

“The taxing bodies have done a good job holding expenses down while homes have risen a bit,” Boelk said. It’s a welcome one-two punch, “especially in these trying times.”

Boelk has Mendota High School to thank for it. The high school cut its tax rate 19 cents and also saw its Social Security and pension contribution fall by a smaller amount.

Mendota High School Superintendent Jeff Prusator said the district actually cut its tax rate two years in a row, and this year’s savings were smaller than the 37-cent savings last year. The payments recently were completed on the high school, and the board opted to cut the tax rate accordingly. Under the pension heading, the fund balances grew a bit high, so the board cut that rate as well.

Not all of Boelk’s peers have as much to celebrate this year, but a Shaw Media analysis of tax bills – they arrived late this year because of the novel coronavirus pandemic – revealed welcome news: Most homes rose in value over the past year, while most taxing bodies held rates in check.

Spring Valley is among the notable winners this year. Mayor Walt Marini’s property values rose by 4% and Spring Valley’s overall tax rate slid 5 cents, thanks to rate reductions by several taxing bodies led by Hall High School.

“That is good news,” said Marini, who is out $115 more on a total tax bill of $3,732.

Utica and La Salle enjoyed comparable boosts in value if also smaller total rate cuts of 7 cents and 6 cents, respectively.

Utica Mayor David Stewart is paying $113 more than last year on a total tax bill of $3,073, and that’s mostly because his home is worth 5% more. Stewart thinks it’s partly because of Waltham Elementary’s new school, which opened last fall and appears to have given Utica homes a boost in the fair-market value column.

Stewart said the recent idling of one of the village’s industrial plants could mean the village’s tax base could shrink in the years ahead.

“With the closing of Covia, I would expect some impact,” he said, “but it may be a year or two before we see any sort of change.

In La Salle, Mayor Jeff Grove finished remodeling and an addition that drove his home values higher. His tax bill jumped from $1,346 to $2,543. Setting aside Grove’s home improvements, La Salle’s values generally improved by a modest 2% and the total tax rate slid by more than a nickel.

“Fingers crossed, even with the virus, from what I am seeing, the housing market is strong and I am hoping it continues,” Grove said, citing a notable uptick in new home construction. “We have really been working hard to keep the city of La Salle portion of tax bills in check.”

In Ottawa, Mayor Dan Aussem saw his home climb 3% in value. Only City Hall raised its tax rate by a small amount. Aussem will pay an additional $77 on a total tax bill of $6,462.

Streator's tax rate within Bruce Township decreased from 12.98 to 12.41. Notably, Streator Elementary District's rate went from 3.6 to 3.12. The city of Streator's rate also decreased from 1.42 to 1.4. Some residents may have seen higher tax bills, but that was because of an increase in property values.

In Princeton, Mayor Joel Quiram and his council had to boost the city’s line item by a small sum, but that was more than offset by rate cuts by every other taxing body that gets a piece of his property tax bill. Quiram’s home also is worth more – a 2% increase over last year – and that puts him on the hook for $40 more (total tax bill: $3,433) than he paid last year.

Peru Mayor Scott Harl has beaten back social media reports that the city’s taxes went up. They didn’t.

“The only thing we tax for is police and fire pensions,” Harl said at recent City Council meeting. “If you look at the line item for the city of Peru, it’s zero.”

Harl’s bill did climb by $124 on a total tax bill of $4,156, but the only taxing body that had an appreciable tax increase was La Salle-Peru Township High School, and that wasn’t much. Harl is paying L-P an extra $48 this year.

Harl wouldn’t be paying City Hall a dime were it not for pension contributions, and he can thank Springfield for that. The state gradually has shifted the pension burden to the cities, and this has sometimes offset cost-saving measures.

That was true in Oglesby, where Mayor Dom Rivara is paying $102 more this year on a total tax bill of $2,027 because of municipal and library rates that jumped by 7% and 7.5%, respectively. Neither the city nor the library made much change to their line-items, however; it mainly was the pension contributions that rose.

Rivara probably will be singing a happier tune over the next two years. Green Thumb Industries is finishing the first of a two-phase expansion of its Oglesby growing facility, and that will boost the city’s tax base in the billing cycles ahead.

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