Saturday, December 9, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
During a contentious Dec. 5 public hearing on Maywood’s 2017 tax levy, around a half dozen village residents berated the Board of Trustees for proposing to increase the village’s annual budget by 3 percent over last year’s level. The board is expected to authorize the new levy at a regular meeting on Dec. 19.
For 2017, the village’s total estimated property tax levy is $22,225,230 — a 2.7 percent increase over last year’s $21,645,152.
The total includes $19,470,830 raised to fund the village’s corporate, recreation and police and fire pensions — a 3 percent increase over last year’s $18,891,952; and $2,754,400 raised to service debt — a less than 1 percent decrease over last year’s $2,753,200 debt service amount.
In each year since at least 2015, village board members have opted for 3 percent increases in the corporate fund, against recommendations by village staff to go with 5 percent increases.
Staff members have argued that by opting for 3 percent increases, the board is only covering its contractual obligations, such as mandatory pension payments, with barely any new revenue raised to cover money that may be needed for service improvements, fleet upgrades and other expenses — which come from the corporate levy.
Board members have argued that going above a 3 percent annual increase in the corporate fund would place an additional tax burden on residents who, they have argued, are already overtaxed.
Tax levy proceedings are routine formalities conducted by governments, which have the power to raise taxes in order to fund basic services. Annual increases in the levy are common, if only to keep up with the rate of inflation. And a year-over-year increase in the tax levy doesn’t necessarily translate into an increase in residents’ tax bills.
The Dec. 5 public hearing, however, was nothing like the routine, quiet proceedings that happen regularly across taxing bodies each year, with residents complaining during the public comment section of the hearing about having to pay increasingly high real estate taxes in exchange for what they said is barely any progress shown by village officials.
“I don’t want [the tax levy increase] to be any percent, because the house I’m in is paid off, but I am paying almost $600 in rent, if you will, in taxes already,” said Nathaniel George Booker.
“We’ve got to try a little harder to figure out how to make this community progress a little bit better, because if you look at any other city in Proviso Township, aside from Maywood, you can point towards progress with some sort of money,” he said. “I’d like to know what elected and paid officials are doing.”
Some residents who spoke complained about what they considered to be the complacency and poor job performance of some village officials.
“We can’t keep managing this community off the backs of the taxpayers,” said Toni Dorris, a former Maywood trustee. “If the taxes have to go up 3 percent then guess what, your economic development department has to go on a 90-day notice. People have become complacent.”
“We want improvements, we want houses back on the tax roll,” said Loretta Robinson, a member of the village’s water review commission, who also decried the village’s poor water collection practices. “Are you really interested in the people of Maywood or are you just sitting there collecting that small stipend that you get?
Maywood resident Cathy Sorensen said that village officials have to do a better job of communicating the history of the town’s problems and laying out solutions.
“There’s going to be a lot of people angry when they get those tax bills,” she said. “I think we need to explain why. You need to explained what has happened that got us to where we are today. All of the bad development, all of the [bond issues we have nothing to show for], all of the redevelopment deals that went belly-up … You have to explain where we’re at and where we’re going.”
“The people are tired,” said Gloria Clay, a member of the village’s police and fire board. “They’re very tired. You need to stop, look and listen to what the people are saying. Don’t let it go over your heads … I’ve been here over 70 years and the rise and fall of this village is unbearable.”
Village officials responded by decrying what they described as an attitude of negativity held among many residents that is counterproductive and that could deter future development.
“We cannot put this dark cloud over ourselves,” said Trustee Isiah Brandon, who explained that he has met with prospective developers on his own time. “If we’re talking down this community, how in the world do you expect anybody to want to live here?”
Trustee Antonio Sanchez said that he has also “personally reached out to developers” to persuade them to consider coming to Maywood. He said that he’s also personally persuaded at least four new families to move into the community.
“I will tell you what I’ve done,” said Sanchez, whose family owns Mariella’s, a banquet hall, in Maywood. “I sit in a predicament, because not only am I a resident here, my family owns a business here, so this 3 percent increase affects me on alls sides of this seat.”
Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr. described some residents’ complaints as the reflection of “massive hysteria” not backed up by facts.
For instance, Norfleet said, some residents claimed that village officials refused to meet with a group of investors interested in buying residential properties in the village. Norfleet said that the claim isn’t true and that he and other staff members had multiple meetings with the investors.
Norfleet said that residents, perhaps in thrall to the village’s recent history, have overlooked the progress the village has made over the last two years.
Those improvements, he said, include a steady uptick in the number of homes sold, an increase over the last two years in the assessed value of homes, various improvements to the sewer system, water collection efforts that have netted the village hundreds of thousands of dollars, a new police contract that could save several hundred thousand dollars in overtime pay and millions invested in road improvements without raising new taxes.
Norfleet explained that Maywood relies on property taxes for most of its revenue, which puts it in a fiscal bind year after year, and much of the village’s basic infrastructure is aging and in need of constant maintenance — a systemic problem that newer, wealthier suburbs don’t have.
“It’s quite unfortunate that people expect improvement when no one wants to make investment … Some kind of way an attitude [has spread] that Maywood is not progressing,” Norfleet said. “That’s not true.”
Norfleet candidly told residents that “if you do not raise your tax levy, do not expect to get services,” and at one point said that residents “have to start being independent” and not expect commercial development to “bail” them out.
“You sound real crazy,” shouted Booker from the audience, channeling the collective frustration of residents who weren’t satisfied with the village manager’s rather stern response.
Norfleet, however, persisted, noting that the increased property values and the 3 percent levy could mean that “theoretically, some people will end up paying less [in taxes].”
“Some way we need to spend the time analyzing what it is that is really occurring,” Norfleet said. VFP
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