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ROCK ISLAND -- County officials are proposing a tax increase of 8.9% for the county's portion of property taxes for the 2020 fiscal year to make up for increases in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, liability fund and other expenses. 

During the county board committee of the whole meeting Wednesday night, County Administrator Jim Snider said IMRF rates will increase to an estimated rate of 15.5% – nearly 12% higher than 2019 rates; SLEP will increase to 29% – which is 22% higher than 2019; and the elected county officials' rate will be 135%.

County board members voted in 2016 to stop collecting pensions and health benefits.

"Pension costs — this is something we are required to do," Snider said. "We must pay IMRF. They don't ask; they tell you. When that bill comes in every month, we have to pay it. Pension costs are rising at a minimum of 11.6% over 2019. This lays a load on the tax levy."

The 2020 general fund budget is projected at $28.6 million, an increase of more than $1 million over last year, and includes a 2% cost-of-living wage increase for all union and non-union employees.

Snider is projecting the liability insurance fund to increase by $1 million in order to cover lawsuits related to Hope Creek Care Center, the county-owned nursing home at 4343 Kennedy Drive, East Moline. 

"Our civil division said we have to have $1 million in reserves ready to pay out those lawsuits," Snider said. 

Snider said the general fund budget was initially short by $2 million, but was balanced in part by moving some operating expenses to the jail lease levy and using $500,000 in reserves. 

He gave credit to Sheriff Gerry Bustos for bridging the budget gap by removing three open positions in the sheriff's department, reducing the number of vehicles requested and increasing some revenue projections. 

In his overall assessment of county operations and finances, Snider said county offices are generally understaffed and some offices have seen staff reductions by more than 50%.

The sheriff's department, for example, serves a population that is nearly 22% lower than Peoria County, but is staffed with 42% fewer employees, Snider said.

"The (sheriff's department) is an area of the county that is going to continue to grow," Snider said. "We are a big load with less people. We have a capital improvement plan that has no funding source. We have no reserves. There is no easy way out of this."

He said it's important to understand that only 12.7% of residents' property tax bill is from Rock Island County. Schools districts are projected to collect 56% in property taxes, and cities and villages will collect about 15%. 

The county's share of property tax bills will increase by an average of $2 per month or $24 per year on a house with a value of $100,000.

Snider said the EAV (equalized assessed value) has increased by 1.7% due to new construction and county improvements, meaning the effective tax increase is closer to 7%.

"Everything we do is not a luxury. Most of what we do is a mandate; we have to do it," Snider said. "We are required to provide a justice center and operate a jail. We are mandated to provide the services of state's attorneys and public defenders. We have probation services, a health department, animal control services.

"We have more than 800 employees. We are a big operation," Snider said. "Our revenues are pretty much flat. Hopefully the cannabis revenue will give us a boost."

Snider told board members the county will be able to collect 3% in sales tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana when it becomes legal January 1.

The budget committee began working on the budget in June, deliberating during five open meetings over the last nine weeks. 

The budget will be put on display for public inspection during the Oct. 15 board meeting. Final approval of the budget and tax levy is expected to take place at the Nov. 19 board meeting and the budget will go into effect Dec. 1.

Board member Kai Swanson thanked Snider, Auditor April Palmer and Treasurer Louisa Ewert for their hard work on the budget. 

"I'd like to thank the accounting firm of Snider, Palmer and Ewert," Swanson said. "I appreciate your very hard and diligent work and I look forward to passing this budget."

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