Council determined to adopt flat levy
Updated: December 10, 2012 5:06PM
HIGHLAND PARK — The Highland Park City Council is determined to hold the city’s own claim on property taxes to current levels despite a 2013 budget that shows spending up by 6 percent.
Under the proposed budget, the cost of basic operations would rise from $52.3 to $55.6 million, a hike stemming primarily from salary increases and expenses that fall under the broad heading of “contractual services.” The category includes, among other things, the outsourcing of functions previously performed by city employees, utility costs and personnel costs associated with the Highland Park Country Club, because the club’s staff members are not city employees.
However, the council is eyeing a flat property tax levy of $10.8 million to fund city services. As a home rule municipality, the city is not governed by the property tax cap, which is calibrated to the Consumer Price Index and this year will limit school and park increases to about 3 percent.
But the city’s self-imposed, zero-growth cap is more restrictive and possible only because the city can draw on revenue from a variety of sources.
The portion of the property tax levy that funds the Highland Park Public Library would increase by nearly 11 percent, to $4.5 million. The library requested the increase to purchase additional reference materials and begin building a reserve account to fund capital improvements.
The library does not have the authority to levy its own property taxes, though the agency appears as a separate line item on the property tax bill. Collectively, the city and library account for about 9 percent of the total tax bill paid by most Highland Park residents.
The City Council is expected to vote on the 2013 budget at its Nov. 26 meeting, and follow up with a vote on the property tax levy Dec. 7.
After trimming staff by 13 percent over the past five years, the proposed budget includes five new positions: Two full-time police officers for traffic enforcement, a fire inspector, a part-time community services officer, a part-time youth worker and a part-time secretary in community development.
Staff requests for four other positions did not make it into the budget, including a police sergeant, a building code enforcement officer, two maintenance workers in public works and a full-time clerk in community development.
The city expects to close 2012 with a scant surplus for the year, because yearly expenditures were $3 million under budget and revenues from sales taxes, real estate transfer taxes and building permits were higher than anticipated.