DENISE CROSBY: Taking a hike: Rising taxes moving people in the wrong direction
By Denise Crosby email@example.com September 3, 2013 8:56PM
Kane County Coroner Rob Russell | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: October 5, 2013 6:28AM
Everywhere I go, local taxes are a hot topic — and not in a favorable way.
Property taxes have risen dramatically. People are not happy, especially when their home values have plummeted so dramatically but the levy continues to rise.
More than ever, I also notice the conversation that follows this tax talk is about getting the hell out of Illinois.
I see it and hear it from all ages, including young folks in their 20s and 30s heading for places such as Texas and Florida — and from my own generation who, for the first time, are considering moving away from family, not because of warmer temperatures but because of shrinking retirement options.
It’s not only in my small circle where people are talking the talk. Check out the “How Money Walks,” a new book by Travis Brown that uses IRS and census statistics from 1995 to 2010 to show what states are the biggest winners and losers — guess which category Illinois fits? — when it comes to migrating population and revenue.
I thought about all that after reading about the tiff between Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen and Coroner Rob Russell. Both elected officials are squabbling over the budget Kane County is currently putting together. Russell wants a budget increase from $80,000 to $144,000 to more effectively handle after-hours death investigations. Lauzen insists that’s too much money and that if the coroner needs extra dollars, to find them from somewhere else in his department.
Lauzen suggested a third party take a look at Russell’s books to see where those dollars can be trimmed, but the coroner rejected that idea and even indicated the chairman’s actions are politically motivated.
Budget battles between board presidents and other county elected officials are not uncommon. Those heading up the departments say they need the money to run their offices and that the board can’t stand in the way. The board, on the other hand, says it has the right to control the overall budget.
In past years, we’ve had nasty fights between then-Chairman Karen McConnaughay and Circuit Clerk Deb Seyller that resulted in an eventually-settled lawsuit. McConnaughay also had knock-down drag-outs with former Sheriff Ken Ramsey, as did Chairman Mike McCoy before her. Clerk Jack Cunningham and the late Coroner Chuck West also went head to head in budget battles that resulted in plenty of major headlines.
In this current controversy, supporters for Russell insist the coroner’s office has been neglected for years, while critics have long questioned whether deaths would more effectively be handled through a medical examiner’s system.
I don’t know enough about the office or the inner workings of the county to say who is right or wrong. What is fact: Local agencies have been hit hard by the dysfunction going on in Springfield. Less state money means more financial burdens on schools, cities and counties to make things work that most closely affect ordinary citizens.
All of which puts even more pressure on local elected officials who must answer to a recession-weary constituency that has lost wages, property values and confidence in the people running the show. And more than ever, voters are making decisions based on those cold, hard facts.
Lauzen, a fiscal conservative who is not afraid to go toe to toe with his own party, was easily elected board chairman because his major campaign promise was to freeze the county’s property tax levy. It’s at least encouraging to see he’s walking the walk. The bottom line is, more people are beginning to use their feet to do the same thing.
And they are heading out of Illinois.