When you first see the 8.9% increase in Rock Island County’s share of property taxes, which works out to $2 per month for the owner of a $100,000 home, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon of opposition to any tax increase for any reason.

We intend in the next few paragraphs to make the case that this increase is a necessary step in reforming the county’s finances and laying the foundation for a future far brighter than most people could have imagined for the county just a few years ago.

First, it’s important to recall two important realities:

-- Only about 12% of your overall bill goes to the county, and most of the increase in this portion is beyond Rock Island County’s control.

-- A 20% jump in pension liabilities and a 13% hike in FICA expenditures must, by law, be accounted for. Few enterprises are immune from inflation, and local government isn’t among them.

Next, decades of poor fiscal management have left the county not only unable to care for facilities like the former courthouse, it’s also left us with chronic understaffing in critical offices like the public defender, state’s attorney and sheriff. These and others are being operated with a fraction of the staff numbers you’ll find in the five Illinois counties closest to us in population.

As we saw in the protracted interim between the previous and current county administrators, forward progress toward reform is slammed into reverse in the absence of professional, non-partisan administrative leadership. Underpaying and understaffing come at significant strategic cost for an organization trying to improve itself.

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It goes without saying that Illinois’ over-reliance on local property taxes represents a system broken far beyond repair. That’s why the public safety sales tax is so important and should be tried again.

No tax is more regressive than property taxes, and with the lowest county sales tax in the state of Illinois, Rock Island County continues to suffer the consequences of relying too much on property taxes.

For the future, the successful sale of the county’s nursing home will reduce property taxes. But please note the word “successful.” If we continue to delay or insist on costly special deals for the favored few at the expense of the 200 families currently served by Hope Creek, we will be left post-sale with continuing debt that will take years to pay off. Whatever debt is left after the sale must by law be paid off via the Nursing Home Levy, regardless of whether we actually own a nursing home or not.

Some contend that redevelopment of the defunct former courthouse would alleviate property taxes. But every proposal to give away the property relies on massive tax incentives, including tax increment financing schemes that would keep the county from receiving any benefit for a generation or more. The contention that selling the vacant former courthouse will improve the county’s finances moving forward is simply not supported by facts.

So, for $2 per month, or about $24 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home, we can keep Rock Island County moving forward on the path to reform. It’s our hope that all of us will keep this in mind as the same old chorus of complaint without any reasonable alternative once again raises its tired refrain.

Thank you for taking the time to consider that there’s another way to view the fiscal year 2020 budget for Rock Island County.

Luis Moreno represents Rock Island County Board District 6 and chairs the county board's budget committee. Kai Swanson represents Rock Island County Board District 16.


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