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Waukegan taxes going up 10 percent for coming year

Updated: February 19, 2013 1:01PM

WAUKEGAN — After failing to approve a a property tax levy at Monday’s regular City Council meeting, aldermen gathered in special session Thursday and voted 6-3 to approve a 10 percent increase for the coming year.

With the increase, owners of a $150,000 home will see a $118 annual increase on the city’s share of their property tax bill. According to statements made during previous council meetings, the city will see a budget deficit of $1.5 million to $2 million.

“We will begin to build the budget based on that levy, and the process starts pretty quickly,” Mayor Robert Sabonjian said following the vote, which came without additional debate from aldermen.

Voting in favor of the measure were aldermen Sam Cunningham (1st Ward), Gregory Moisio (3rd), Harold Beadling (4th), Edith Newsome (5th), Lisa May (7th) and William Valko (8th). In opposition were Thomas Koncan Jr. (2nd), Larry TenPas (6th) and Rafael Rivera (9th).

On Monday, Cunningham, Beadling and Valko voted against the 10 percent option.

Thursday’s action came in the wake of strong comments at Monday’s council meeting in which several aldermen pointed to the foreclosure crisis as a primary argument in favor of increasing revenue, saying that the ability to crack down on nuisance properties has been impacted by layoffs among code inspectors.

“There are three or four that are vacant now that are wide open. Wide open,” said Moisio. “And they’ll be drug houses, houses of ill repute, houses where kids hang out — it’s only a matter of time. ... all you need is one dead person in there and there will be an outcry — ‘why didn’t you do something?’ But when you only have so much staff to go around, there’s only so much you can do.”

Moisio added that if property taxes weren’t increased, “be prepared for more layoffs and more vacant homes if we can’t deal with this. I don’t want to raise taxes either, but I also don’t want vacant homes. God knows we need as many police officers as we can.”

May also discussed the issue, saying “we have homes that are drug houses, (with) squatters, totally deteriorating our neighborhoods. So I just say think long and hard before decreasing any of our staff.”

“Our code department is decimated already, and our foreclosure problem is not going away,” May added. “This puts such a burden on our city, by no fault of our own. We did not ask for this burden, (but) they are there. Banks are walking away from properties.”

Newsome said the city’s resources have been stretched so thin that “we don’t even have the money to board up some of these homes. We don’t have the money to tear them down after they’ve been sitting vacant for 10 years.”

Newsome added that “I’ve gotten calls from the schools, and kids are skipping school and going to these vacant houses, tearing some of the boards off, making makeshift mattresses (and) curtains, but we don’t have them money to board them up or tear them down. We can’t force the banks to tear them down. We can’t find the property owners — they’re long gone. ... We need to give the city what it needs (to) take care of our infrastructure, to take care of our streets (and) garbage. My street hasn’t been fixed in 20 years. Where are we going to get the money to do it?”

Koncan expressed concern that higher property taxes would only pour fuel on the situation.

“The problem I’ve got with raising these taxes 10 or 14 percent is we’re going to end up with the same issue — we’re going to have a bunch of people who can’t afford their taxes, and they’re going to walk away. And we’re going to have even bigger problems (with) empty houses,” said Koncan, adding that code inspectors “should be paying their own salaries   there are a bunch of fines out there” to be collected from owners of blighted properties.

The measure approved Thursday came after aldermen voted against two proposed increases on Monday — a 10-percent option created by the city’s financial staff and an 8-percent alternative proposed by Valko. Monday’s inaction required Thursday’s special meeting, since a property tax levy must be prepared and filed with the Lake County Clerk by the close of business today (Friday).

The council never staged a vote on a proposed 21-percent levy increase that would have raised taxes $240 on a $150,00 home. According to finance director Tina Smigielski, that level of increase would have been necessary for the city to avoid a budget deficit while still meeting its pension obligations, collecting garbage without charging residential water bills, and matching federal grants for recently hired police officers and firefighters, among other expenses.

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