Property Tax Referendum Will Not Be On November Ballot

By Charlie Feldman

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A push to get the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law on the November ballot abruptly ended when the Madison County Board decided to wait 60 days to get more information before taking action, leaving open the possibility that they could place it on the spring ballot instead.

This 18-6 decision took place at a special virtual meeting held on Monday, August 10. It had originally been scheduled last week but only 13 members of the Madison County Executive Committee attended.

So five special meetings were scheduled this week. All with the same agenda – placing the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) on the November 3 ballot.

Only one was needed for the board to pass a vote to postpone the vote for 60 days, “killing it,” according to a press release issued by County Board Chair Kurt Prenzler shortly after the meeting.

“State law requires the county board to place it on the ballot 79 days prior to the election,” Prenzler explained in the release. “The deadline is August 15.”

PTELL limits the ability of taxing districts to raise taxes beyond the rate of inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, his release explained, adding that “PTELL is the law in 39 Illinois counties, home to 80 percent of the state’s population.” But whether or not it is a good law for Madison County’s non-incorporated areas raised questions.

PTELL limits the amount of tax extensions (total taxes billed) for non-home rule taxing districts, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue website.

It does not “cap” individual property tax bills or individual property assessments, the IDOR site says. Instead, it allows a taxing district to receive a limited inflationary increase in tax extensions on existing property, plus an additional amount for new construction, and voter-approved rate increases.

It slows the growth of property tax revenues to taxing districts when property values and assessments are increasing faster than the rate of inflation, the site explains. As a whole, property owners have some protection from tax bills that increase only because the market value of their property is rising rapidly.

Increases in property tax extensions are limited to the lesser of 5 percent or the increase in the consumer price index for the year preceding the levy year. The limitation for a taxing district can be increased with voter approval, according to the site.

Illinois State Statute 35 ILCS 200/18-213 allows county boards to put the question of applying PTELL to non-home rule taxing districts with all or a portion of the equalized assessment value (EAV). PTELL limits annual property tax extension increases.

But not for everyone. Not for those living in incorporated cities like Collinsville and Edwardsville. That’s one of many aspects that aren’t very clear, according to several board members.

“I think, more than anything, that proponents of this are saying we should just throw it to the ballot and whether we can understand it doesn’t matter,” said Chris Guy, a Republican from Maryville. He said that at the executive committee meeting held immediately before the proceedings that he asked basic questions of fact and that he either didn’t get an answer or did but there were “major discrepancies” between what board members said. “Like whether or not it eliminates backdoor referendums,” he said. “One group thinks it does. Another group thinks it doesn’t. So if we don’t have a basic understanding of what it does, how can we responsibly be telling people to go vote on it?

“When they see you at the supermarket the next day and they say, ‘Hey! Tell me about PTELL!’ are you supposed to say ‘Oh, you know, I don’t really know. Go do your own research.’? Cause if so it doesn’t sound like a responsible public servant to me. It doesn’t sound like you’re making a responsible decision,” he said.

“Another discrepancy was which cities does it affect and which ones doesn’t it,” he continued. “I’m under the understanding that it does not affect cities such as Madison and Fairmont City which are part of Madison County. And those weren’t brought up. So again, we don’t even understand the basic facts of who’s affected.

“If I understand correctly, I don’t think it affects close to 100,000 people,” he said. “So if you live in Collinsville, for example, I don’t think 80 percent of your tax bill is affected by this, maybe 100. So we’re telling people in Collinsville, hey, vote for this to lower your tax bill. And they have the exact same vote as somebody from Alhambra, St. Jacob or Marine where it actually does affect the majority of their tax bill.

“We’re basically saying ‘vote on it and we’ll understand it later,’” he said. He said the last time he heard someone say that was Nancy Pelosi referring to Obamacare.

“I’m disappointed,” Prenzler said in his press release, “Yes, PTELL is complicated, but I believe the people who pay the taxes, not the politicians, should be the ones voting on it.

“If re-elected, I will continue to pursue property tax relief for taxpayers.

“In 2018, I asked the county board to put PTELL on the ballot, but they ‘tabled it’,” Prenzler said in one of his previous press releases. “The question is not so much about PTELL as it is giving taxpayers the opportunity to vote on it.”

While the central issue is not PTELL itself but whether or not taxpayers can vote for or against it, that raises issues as well.

Philip Chapman, a Republican from Highland, pointed this out at the meeting.

“It’s about giving a chance for taxpayers to vote on it, really?” he asked. “One wonders if it’s a cleverly disguised misdirection play. Why? I observe most of those asking me to place it on the ballot aren’t even impacted by PTELL because they live in home-ruled areas. Please consider an estimated 35,000 voters from home-ruled districts not impacted by PTELL could vote. Could they decide on non-incorporated taxes?”

Prenzler’s 2018 drive to put PTELL on that November ballot was tabled by a 14-10 vote. That year county board members argued that they did not know enough about PTELL and they did not have enough time to make the decision. They would have had more than enough time over the next two years if he hadn’t waited until less than two weeks before Monday night’s vote to bring this up again in another drive to get this on the ballot in time.

“PTELL may be the best thing in the world,” said Raymond Wesley, a Republican from Alton. “I don’t know yet because I’ve got unanswered questions. But evidently in the two years that we’ve had to work with this your administration has elected not to work on it until the last nine days. And that includes your county administrator. What was he doing during these last two years if he wasn’t working on stuff like this? So I am going to make a motion to postpone this for sixty days pending study and if it’s important enough to go on the ballot in November it’s important enough to go on the ballot this spring. There’s another election coming, if that’s what the study shows.”

Somebody seconded right away.

“Mr. Wesley, I was going to rule that motion out of order,” said Prenzler.

This was followed by a serious of quick sentences from various people that grew louder and louder, eventually followed by a much quieter statement that since there was no postponement date it was akin to tabling it. The board chose 60 days as the postponement period and voted 16-4 in favor of that.

A resolution to cancel all special meetings until after 6 p.m. on the next scheduled meeting day was quickly passed before adjournment.

For more information visit the county’s website at www.co.madison.il.us.

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