AP NEWS

Rock Falls gets creative to avoid bigger tax increase

November 24, 2018

ROCK FALLS – An ordinance that proposes a 4.99 percent increase in the city’s tax levy will move on for action after the city approved an alternate method for avoiding a public hearing.

The city’s finance committee was given two options for meeting its police and fire pension obligations. The state mandates that municipalities have their pensions 90 percent funded by 2040.

The city again saw substantial increases in its police and fire pensions. For fire, the total requested extension for pensions is $401,771, a 15.47 percent jump from last year. The requested police pension extension is $508,351, which is 8.5 percent more than last year.

In addition to fire and police pensions, other substantial increases were a 13.65 percent hike for the tort levy and a 13.64 percent bump for workers’ compensation.

After studying a city’s pension situation, actuaries often give recommendations for keeping clients on track for 90 percent and 100 percent funding by the target date.

The first option, with a goal of 100 percent funding, would have increased the city’s portion of a property owner’s total tax bill by 16.7 percent. That would have meant an estimated $71 a year increase for the owner of a $71,000 home – the median fair market value of houses in Rock Falls.

The second option – the 4.99 percent increase backed by the council – is based on the 90 percent pensions funding target. If that option is approved at the next council meeting on Dec. 4, the owner of that same home would be looking at an annual increase of $14.58 in its property taxes.

In order to stay below that 5 percent public hearing trigger point, however, the city had to think outside the box.

“The finance committee proposed using money from the city’s Social Security and Medicare reserve fund to reduce the tax levy increase for the 2019 fiscal year,” Finance Committee Chairman Glen Kuhlemier said.

The plan to transfer the reserve funds in the amount of $34,351 still leaves a $60,000 cushion in that account, City Administrator Robbin Blackert said.

The council OK’d the resolution for the fund transfer and then voted 8-0 to move the tax levy ordinance ahead for action at the next meeting.

Last year’s tax levy increase also came in at 4.99 percent. The numbers are beginning to stabilize after the city approved larger levy increases of 15.32 percent and 10.09 percent the previous 2 years.

The city’s levy makes up about 17 percent of a resident’s total tax bill. The largest percentage of the bill – about 55 percent – goes to the city’s high school and grade school districts, while about 10 percent is levied by Whiteside County.

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