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Sycamore City Council voices support for freezing tax levy

SYCAMORE – The Sycamore City Council voiced early support for freezing its property tax levy during its Monday meeting.

The city could hold its property tax levy at $2.6 million for a third year in a row, resulting in a $1.20 increase on most residents’ city portion of the property tax bill. The increase is necessary to generate the $2.6 million because total property value in the city fell almost 10 percent from $410 million to $371 million.

All the council members supported the freeze, with Alderman Rick Kramer noting it was good to see positive trends in sales tax and other revenues so there is not as much reliance on property taxes.

“It’s good to hear we’re having positive revenue trends that are helping us out tremendously,” he said.

While the city has levied the same amount of money since 2009, the budget for general operations has decreased by $160,000 during that time because more money is needed to fund increasing pension costs.

The combined fire and police pensions, Medicare and other retirement funds total $1.2 million of the proposed $2.6 million budget.

City Manager Brian Gregory commended the council for being fiscally responsible and said the city staff has done a great job of maintaining services despite having less money each year.

“I think we’ve done a great job of reducing our reliance on property tax,” he said. “We’re mindful of what families and businesses are going through.”

To make up for the lack of new property-tax revenue and increasing pension costs, the city will have to dip into reserves and sales-tax revenues.

Gregory said this could be the final year the city is able to hold the line on the levy, as inflation and the cost of living continue to go up.

Council members had five different options to choose from, some of which would have either significantly increased or decreased the levy. One proposal would have resulted in a $34 savings for the average homeowner, while the other would increase bills by $12.40.

No final decision was made on the property-tax levy as the council will first hold a public hearing Dec. 3 before voting.

The Sycamore Public Library levy, which also must go through the council, is proposed to increase 3 percent, bumping the average homeowner’s share from $129 to $134.

It would increase the library’s revenue from $915,366 to $943,400.

Gregory said it is important to remember taxing bodies such as the library cannot benefit from sales-tax revenues like the city.

Alderman Greg Taylor, who also serves on the library board, said costs continue to go up as staff must purchase DVDs, audio books, e-books and traditional books each time there is a new release.

“It’s the realities of a library today,” Taylor said. “It’s really a serious asset to the community.”

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