SYCAMORE – The cause may have been worthy, but in the end, voters on Tuesday lacked the resolve to add any more weight to an already heavy property tax burden for public health services.
A proposal that would have increased property taxes about $9.50 per $100,000 in assessed value to support the DeKalb County Health Department was rejected by a vote of 55.9 percent (7,715 votes) to 44 percent (6,068 votes), according to unofficial returns.
DeKalb County Health Department, Director Lisa Gonzalez did not return a message seeking her reaction to the bill’s defeat and what it will mean for the future of public health services in DeKalb County.
Before the election, Gonzalez said one of her biggest concerns about continuing to reduce staff is that it restricts the department’s ability to respond to a public health emergency.
“[The referendum] is not to add staff; it’s not to add services or programs,” she told the Daily Chronicle in March. “It’s really to sustain what we’re currently doing at the level that we’re currently doing it.”
County officials had asked the public for the increase to counteract the effects of shrinking state and federal public health grants, which make up about 40 percent of the health department’s budget.
Grant funding has shrunk by 18 percent since 2008, health officials said. As a result, the health department’s workforce has been trimmed by about a quarter and several health programs and services have ended.
The proposal had the support of several local health officials and others past and present and would have generated about $500,000 more a year in revenue to sustain county public health programs, which run the gamut from inspecting food-service operations to disease prevention, anti-smoking efforts and family case management programs.
However, even some county board members had opposed placing it on the ballot, citing a reluctance to add any more to local property tax bills.