After two decades of freezing its levy and foregoing revenue that might have helped cushion the blow it now faces, the village of North Riverside began extending its annual tax levy a couple of years ago.
The impact to homeowners, at least as it concerns the amount of taxes collected to fund village services, has remained very low.
According to information provided by the village, the owner of a home in Riverside Township valued at $200,000 pays about $110 annually to the village. Senior citizens pay about $87. The amounts are slightly lower in the Komarek School District 94 area of the village.
The village board will ask for a 1.5 percent increase in its tax levy in December, which is expected to bring in the princely collective sum of $12,000. The average homeowner will see an increase of about $1 on the tax bill, seniors will barely notice.
Of course, overall tax bills will go up by more than one dollar, because the village isn't the only taxing body serving residents of North Riverside. There's a high school district, grade school districts, the county, the water reclamation district, the mosquito abatement district, etc.
Of the total amount that appears on a North Riverside homeowner's property tax bill, less than 3 percent goes toward paying for services provided by the village.
While that has been a great deal for homeowners, the chickens are coming home to roost. And the village board in the coming months may begin talking about how to build a bigger hen house.
That's because the amount of money the village owes in police and fire pension obligations keep rising. According to village figures, the amount the village is obligated to pay annually toward pensions will have grown by almost $1 million between 2015 and 2019.
Part of the village's issues with funding its pensions was a conscious decision in the early 2000s to not fund its pension funds adequately or at all. Since 2014 or so, the village has paid 100 percent of its obligation to its police and fire pension funds, largely with revenues collected from red-light camera violations.
But the pension costs keep going up, and red-light camera revenues – unless more of the devices are added – will likely level off or even decline a bit.
And that's going to leave the village and its modestly taxed property owners with a decision. Do you sacrifice service levels – particularly police and fire services, where the expenses are greatest – or do you decide to actively fund the village's pension obligations via a tax increase levy?
The village's attempt to ease the fire pension burden by privatizing firefighting services doesn't look like it's going to be an answer. The village made the choice to create a full-time fire department many years ago; to expect those union employees to eliminate themselves is unrealistic.
This is perhaps the long way around to an inconvenient realization – that you can't expect to adequately fund the operations of a municipality on individual tax bills of $110 a year.