Local voters reject new tax levies


Staff report



Champaign County voters faced three countywide tax issues, two school district tax levies and a City of Urbana proposed income tax hike on Tuesday. With a local voter turnout of 56 percent, all proposed new tax levies failed, according to unofficial results released by the board of elections Tuesday night.

Election day and early/absentee voter turnout was high as U.S. Congressional and Senate seats and statewide races were in play, along with a statewide issue about criminal penalties for drug offenders. (See related story at bottom of page)

On its third try, Graham Local Schools voters rejected an earned income tax levy, 2,855 against and 2,409 for. The one percent, five-year earned income tax would have generated around $1.9 million annually. Previously, voters rejected the levy in November 2017 and in the May election. The levy was defeated 1,750 votes to 1,654 votes in May. Following the levy’s failure in May, $1.5 million in cuts were made to the district’s operating budget.

“While it is not the outcome that we wanted, we worked hard to communicate to our community, and to engage our residents with information about the financial stress our district is under,” said Graham Superintendent Kirk Koennecke in a prepared statement from the district that referenced the proposed earned income tax as “modest.”

Koennecke thanked “our caring volunteers, teachers, staff and community supporters. They did a fantastic job. They want what is best for our Graham school community.”

“The need did not go away with the failure of this levy,” stated Graham Board President Ryan Pine. “The district has not had new operating dollars in over 26 years and the budget will remain strained. It will take some time, however, to assess the next steps and to determine what it means operationally for the district.”

The district will cut an additional $600,000, raise student fees for 2019-20 and reduce operating budgets and services even further, including limiting transportation to the state minimum for 2019-2020.

The City of Urbana’s proposed income tax increase of 0.6 percent for bolstering police and fire division services failed by a vote of 1,889 against and 1,661 for. The police/fire/EMS operating and capital improvements levy would have brought the total additional tax rate for emergency services to one percent, and the total effective income tax rate to two percent. Voters rejected a similar ballot issue during the May election that would have established a replacement income tax of one percent for emergency services.

Urbana Mayor Bill Bean said: “I’m disappointed that it didn’t pass, but we came a long way from the last time, in terms of cutting into the (voting) deficit. I don’t think we’re done. I think we’ll try again. When, I’m not sure. But we’ll get together with the committee and look at the precincts and what we did right, what we did wrong. I think it’s very, very important. We have a tremendous amount of money we’ve got to come up with. We just don’t have enough funds.” Bean said the fire and police departments account for about 52 percent of the general fund. “We’d really like to try to sustain our public safety services,” Bean said.

Champaign County Historical Museum’s new 0.3-mill property tax failed by a vote of 8,256 against and 6,208 for. This five-year levy was expected to generate $249,000 annually. “We want to thank the voters who did support us, and of course we want to thank the volunteers who worked to support us,” said Dan Walter on behalf of the museum. “We worked harder than ever. I don’t know what more we could have done. The future of the museum is uncertain.”

Champaign County Children Services renewal levy with an increase was approved, 7,632-6,880. Additional money was requested to pay for the increasing costs of foster care in the county, caused in part by the opioid problem. The agency sought a renewal of an existing one-mill levy with a one-mill increase, which will result in a five-year, 2-mill levy. The levy is expected to generate $1,430,000 annually. The levy is expected to cost the owner of a $100,000 home $58 per year.

“I would like to thank all the voters that came out to vote for the levy. It was a close call. I know anytime you go back to voters asking for additional taxes it’s a tough decision for a citizen,” said Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services Director Stacy Cox. “The passage of the levy does demonstrate the value that Champaign County citizens place on our children. We’re very fortunate to know that our community stands behind the needs of abused and neglected children so we are so very grateful.”

Triad Local Schools’ 0.5 percent income tax renewal was approved, 921-783. The approval of this renewal will result in no new money from taxpayers and will be ongoing for five years beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

The Champaign County Senior Services 0.4-mill renewal levy was approved by a vote of 9,281-5,238.

Other local taxation issues approved by voters were:

-Johnson St. Paris Fire District, Northeast Champaign Fire District, Christiansburg Village Operating levy, Christiansburg Village Fire levy, Mechanicsburg Village levy, Concord Township Fire levy, Concord Township Roads levy, Jackson Township Ambulance levy, Jackson Township Fire levy, Mad River Township levy, Rush Township levy, Urbana Township levy, Wayne Township levy.

The following liquor issues on the ballot were approved by voters: 559 Cafe Liquor Sales, Sycamore Market Sunday Liquor sales, Christiansburg General Store Liquor sales, Christiansburg General Store Sunday Liquor sales.

Certification of the results is pending by the board of elections later this month.

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Staff report