City Council Raises Tax Levy

In a 4-3 vote, the Highland Park City Council narrowly passed a two percent tax hike.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering cast the deciding vote that will increase property taxes by two percent at the City Council meeting on Monday.

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After a lengthy conversation, City Councilmen Sally Higginson, Tony Blumberg, Jim Kirsch and Mayor Rotering voted in favor of the tax hike in order to help reduce the city's long-term pension obligations.

"What we are talking about tonight is making an investment in paying down some of our commitments," Kirsch said during the discussion.

Councilmen Paul Frank, David Naftzger and Danile Kaufman voted against the tax increase.

"I think raising the property tax should be our last resort," Nafztger said. "I think we have a lot more work to do before I can even consider a levy increase."

The debate about whether or not to approve the tax hike seemed to revolve around the necessity of taking on Highland Park's financial obligations versus the economic hardships faced by residents currently.

"We are still at a very challenging time in our economy," Kaufman said. "If we raise the levy it's another thing coming at [residents]."

Rotering asked city staff how the levy would affect property tax bills, and was told that there would be a $34 incease on a $10,000 property tax bill.

City Manager David Knapp spoke in favor of the levy increase, explaining that incremental steps to take care of Highland Park's pension commitments would be better than larger steps down the road.

"Raising the levy does recognize the fact that you do have some rising costs," Knapp said. "We should take those small steps."

In addition to helping take care of pension costs, a small percentage of the property tax increase will also go towards financing the library's renovations.

Blumberg advised the City Council to pass the levy, concerned that not doing so could cause the city to dip into its reserve funds down the road.

"If we don't raise the levy," Blumberg said, "We face the possibility of having to go into our reserves."

Naftzger suggested the possibility of finding the money elsewhere, such as outsourcing city services and condsolidating departments.

"We still have a number of things we could be doing to alleviate some of our long term obligations," Naftzger said.

Editor's note: This article originally stated that the tax levy would lead to a $64 increase on a $10,000 property tax bill. According to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, that amount is $34. Patch apologizes for the error.

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MS December 11, 2012 at 04:07 AM
$64 on 10,000 is not 2%, so which is it?
steve reinglass December 11, 2012 at 04:19 AM
I think it's a terrible thing that the tax levy was raised to offset pension obligations. Pensions are out of control and the taxpayer takes the responsibility. Politicians promise unions unrealistic retirement pensions that are never seen in the private sector. If the politicians were personally responsible for financial over runs we would have a more responsible government
Ed Brill December 11, 2012 at 04:30 AM
The city's portion of that $10,000 tax bill will be increased by 2% or approximately $64.
Moe @ the Buck December 11, 2012 at 06:16 AM
Hey Ed Brill, It's Moes, what do you do for fun? I want you to be honest. What's your favorite color? What is your favorite fast food? Boxers or briefs? We know you can get a little crazy, right? Or is it all just business? It's the holidays, can't we try to have some fun around here? By the way, Alyssa knoble is one of the nicest people I've ever met. Just thought I'd throw that in there. Politics.
RRR December 11, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Well next mayoral election Rotering needs to go. Last year my taxes went up $6000 in the blink of an eye. Now somehow 2 percent is $64. Time to vote Nancy out next election. Enough is enough. Ask her about the city being sued for trying to stop her neighbor from replacing his fence- what will that cost us taxpayers? She spearheaded this lawsuit and lost, even when the man had a fence permit approved with a grandfathered variance on its height (if He didn't have it the fence was too short and could see right into neighbors window) and he did everything by the book- she had personal reasons to do this, lost, and the city is going to be sued bigtime now and guess who pays-us.
Walter White December 11, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Sounds like the soccer mom was installed to approve the tax hike.
MS December 11, 2012 at 01:12 PM
I like Nancy a lot, but this is just inexcusable, especially after our property taxes just went up last year. My question to those running for council next year, what are you going to do about this if you are elected?
Dan Jenks December 11, 2012 at 02:38 PM
The City of HP has pension obligations which need to be funded – just like the State of Illinois. The State of Illinois is in a pension crisis for many different reasons – commentators have pointed to overly generous pension terms (with high cost of living adjustments), inadequate investment returns, pension spiking, etc. One of the biggest reasons for the crisis today is that the State took “pension holidays”, i.e. skipped funding the plans for several years during the past 20 years. This was unconscionable – but I don’t remember anyone really complaining at the time - barely a word from our elected officials or the unions representing teachers. To the extent that City of HP is not kicking the can down the road on its pension obligations like Illinois – I say kudos to the Mayor and City Council. These obligations are similar to a bond issue and, just like it is prudent to make regular bond payments and not let our debt get out of control, it is equally prudent to keep our pension funding levels up. It would be one thing if the City Council was increasing pensions benefits (i.e., increasing what we, the taxpayers, will owe in the future), but that’s not what’s going on. Saving money elsewhere in the budget is very important (as David Naftzger and others note) and creating sustainable retirement plans for the long-term is also key. But for now, the City needs to keep up with its funding obligations – despite how unpopular this decision may be.
Jack Straw December 11, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Personally I am glad they raised the taxes, this is a special place for special people. Honestly all you people that whine about your taxes should move to a place you can afford. It just infuriates me when I hear folks criticizing the virtuous politicians of Illinois.
forest barbieri December 11, 2012 at 04:28 PM
While raising the tax basis to fund obligations that are in place make sense, the real elephant in the room is pensions funded by taxpayers as a whole. Pensions are a nice idea and have a moral place in our society. However, they have been abused and used for personal gain and as a piggy bank funded by the taxpayer. They have changed the meaning of public servant in that we the public have become tax servants to public pensions. Why should a public pension be paid in full to those that step up to the trough for a second time collecting both the benefit and another public salary. No problem if you want to contribute in the form of taking a job after you have earned a public pension but why not forgo payment of that pension while working the second job or allowing for pension payment only when you reach Social Security age? In addition, the system is gamed by everyone in that the amount is spiked by the last couple of years so the focus those years is merely to juice the pension and begin to look for another way to feed at the trough. Politicians spend considerable time determining where they can sell their influence and knowledge post public service. The system is broken and we need serious reform! How about a 401 type program wherin the "Public Servant " contributes a significant portion of their pension!
PIC December 11, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Stuart Senescu December 11, 2012 at 05:28 PM
i see a contractor's vehicle sweeping my street about once a month. What is it sweeping? We get the usual grass clippings, cigarette butts, gravel or asphalt pebbles but then we get a good rain and it all gets washed down into the gutters. What happened to the city owned street sweepers? Did the City sell them? did the city lay off any workers because the contractor was cheaper overall than the city employees? i can understand sweeping the streets in commercial/business areas which get a lot of foot traffic and gelato cups, hot dog wrappers, expresso cups, etc. but what purpose does sweeping a residential side street do? and how much did the city save by outsourcing this. I would rather know a city employee was working for me then someone with no connection all to the home owner. and i wonder how much such drivers are on their cell phones?
Steve S. December 11, 2012 at 05:28 PM
What exactly makes you a special person?
Jack Straw December 11, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Sorry Pic, but it’s true. Now I had suggested the city build a fence around Highland Park but alas that was not to be. Now the cities did me one better and began to build an economic fence, brilliant!
Jack Straw December 11, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Because my Mom said so.
forest barbieri December 11, 2012 at 06:28 PM
If there were a requirement on the books that allowed for pension holidays only when they were offset by equal (stop) payment of pension holiday, you can be sure that no "public Servant" would have allowed a "pension holiday." The issues with pensions are not that they should not be in place, the issue is that everyone on the public payroll games the system. We need serious pension reform going forward that would eliminate the ability to spike the payout during the last few years, require individual contributions to the system and reduce any payment by the amount of any second career public pay while the individual is collecting post pension public funds.. Finally, we should legislate a reasonable age wherin public pensions begins to be paid out. No reform will come from those that are currently feedng at the public trough but rather needs to be enacted through intense public pressure and vote. We are indeed the tax servants of public pensions. No worries for them as they can always raise taxes.
jbeach December 11, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Gee, when will the Park District be raising our taxes next?
Peter Lucas December 11, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Taxes and death, the only sure things in life. The near-tern hikes at the local level won't stop here. We should sign over all our future paychecks to every taxing body now and get it over with.
Ed Brill December 11, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Joe, I doubt most of the readers understood the cynical tags around your comment. Are you perhaps a bit disillusioned with elected officials on this issue?
Jack Straw December 11, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Ed, now when old Qin Shi Huang, told some of his boys that he wanted to build a garden wall and they would only need a few stones, everyone said fine. When I was younger I fought like crazy for a school referendum, about 165.00 at the time. I asked an older gentleman why he was so against it. His reply was that every generation keeps building the tax wall higher and higher. Now I see 65 dollars here 110 there and on and on we build the tax wall higher one stone at a time.
Jack Straw December 11, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Hey Moe, Ed’s a good egg. He is kind of like the Bill Gates version of Jame’s Bond. Swingin' on the Riviera one day and then layin' in the Bombay alley next day, Secret agent man.
RRR December 12, 2012 at 01:18 PM
What about the Pension scandal with the Park District? What happened with that? Is that money being returned (laugh), so yes, Pensions are being abused. If they insist on this tax, we as taxpayers need to start a movement to phase out pensions and start a 401k contribution plan like we have in the private sector. Why should the puiblic sector get pensions? From what I see they have pretty good salaries, commensurate with private. Why not?!
Steven N December 12, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Funding the unrealistic pension promises of the past is going to be the death of the future economics of this and many communities. To further increase our property taxes at this time is more than painful...it is wrong, and we can be sure that there will be additional requests from other quarters coming.
Peter Lucas December 12, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Of course there will tax increases from other local taxing bodies in the coming months, tax hikes are the solution to all their fiscal woes...that is until they run out of taxpayer's money.
Daniel December 12, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Pension scandal got swept under the rug. Lisa Madigan's office was doing an investigation. Nobody will comment . Years have passed and nothing was done.
Carl Lambrecht December 12, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Highland Park/Deerfield High School District 113 raised the tax levy 5%(really 4.98%). In addition they are considering a referendum (more taxes). They have 4 bond issues which are not paid off. With a referendum it will be the 5th bond. Highland Park High School Principal Brad cost is about $220,000 a year. Yet Highland Park is a failing school for about the last 5 years. Think what his pension will be. His mother in law Linda was superintendent just a few years ago. Her pension cost the state over a million dollars for the short time she has been retired. Yes the city is raising taxes. They are not alone. Frame of reference Governor cost about $177,000, Regional Superintendent of Schools coat about $120,000. They are looking for new people to get on the School Board. Call Carl Lambrecht for information. 847 432 8255 or email lambrecht@laurelindustries.com
R.G. December 13, 2012 at 02:58 AM
Forest: I'm not sure about other public workers, but teachers pay over 9% of their salaries into the pension system in lieu of social security. So actually the system to which you refer, where the "public servant" contributes a significant portion to their pension already exists.
Jack Straw December 13, 2012 at 04:32 AM
Stuart you’re the first one to see this, but keep looking. Look at some of the parks in H.P. The use of LLC Company’s using 1099 employees is rampant in cities across this country. When you hear the word outsource from a politician it usually ends up with the hiring of undocumented workers. In Highland Park we might have companies that are doing massive work yet only show 2 employs on their workers comp filings.
David Greenberg December 13, 2012 at 06:11 AM
I was at the meeting the other night - and this was certainly a lively discussion by all involved. Everyone here likely knows that I'm no fan of tax increases. However in this case, the Pension Obligations are pegged to go up exponentially. If we don't fund them, then we're going to be in the same boat as the geniuses down in Springfield. Personally, I'm opposed to defined benefit plans. If someone wants a pension, let them fund it themselves (and yes, I know teachers often do this themselves - it varies by District). If we want to relieve ourselves of this burden, the only way to do it is to stop offering pensions to new employees, then get rid of all the existing employees who receive pensions, and hire new employees. Or we can simply not fund it, wait for the obligations to exceed our revenues, declare bankruptcy and discharge all the pensions to the loving care of the Federal Government (this has happened in some California cities already). What's the best solution? Both stink. But download the Council Packet from the City's website, and take a look at the projections - that ever-increasing burden is simply unsustainable. It's going to take a bite out of the City budget and limit services while continuing to increase taxes. That stinks too.
Jack Straw December 13, 2012 at 06:32 AM
Thanks David, well said..


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