Monday, May 25, 2015

Assessors meetings discuss real data

After receiving the staff report that projected a 4.4 million dollar savings by centralizing our assessment process and eliminating the 18 township elected assessors, our Chairman Aaron Lawlor scheduled 6 meetings with all the townships to discuss data, process, and governance outcomes. The Lake County staff that produced the report has not participated and we will be going back to committee in early June to get permission to engage them.

I attended all six meetings with Township Assessors, Supervisors, almost all fellow County Board Members, and other affected employees. The majority of the discussions were positive and constructive on pursuing accurate data, best practices, and unified standards across the county. Since our staff has not been taking part in these discussions I am very anxious to hear their response.

Much of these first discussions centered around the true cost levied upon the citizens for the 18 assessors. The county study pinned that number at approximately 8.2 million based on budget data that was available. Townships levy taxes for both the Supervisor and Assessors together. While they have two separate budget documents, some of the costs for assessors is within the Supervisors budget such as the Assessors salary. In these meetings the townships took the positions that real expenditures should be the basis of cost, not the budgeted numbers. This has created a bit of a apples vs. oranges comparison that does muddy the water. The true cost to our citizens is what is the assessors budgeted cost that is levied? That is the true cost to taxpayers! Anyway, I am hopeful future meetings will nail these costs down. The assessors preliminary expenditure numbers have been around 7.1 million, 1.1 million less than Lake County staffs preliminary 8.2 projections. But again this is projected budgeted numbers vs. preliminary expenditures so more work needs to be done before any real determination can take place. So at this point I have no reason to believe the staff report projections are inaccurate.

The second concern of the assessors was the projected staffing of the centralized county system. The townships believed that with their analysis of actual work loads and the data from the county's surveying, the County's actual projected staff levels with a centralized operation and associated costs would rise. Again, our staffs response is crucial to final determination.

The third major issue discussed was the impact on the citizens and the customer service at the local level. While we do envision an assessment presence throughout the county we have not yet evaluated the programming on having a local presence. As I explained at the meetings, I thought there would be two levels of customer service, one topical and the second more professional. For example we could partner with township supervisors or municipal clerks to be a place for citizens to fill out exemption and senior freeze forms. They could also print out basic assessment information that could be received online.  At a more professional level we could use some of the vacated space of our existing townships to have permanent/roaming satellite places for a local presence of Lake County assessment staff. Now, these are just my initial thoughts and as this discussion continues, ideas will turn into actual recommendations with hard numbers. I am however not expecting these costs to be substantial compared to the existing 18 township office currently filled with assessment personnel.

Other issues of consistency and accuracy were discussed with the assessors voicing concern of time and examination of local neighborhoods under a centralized system. They did however agree for the most part that there were issues of different assessment values across township lines that negatively affected taxpayers.

More work needs to be done to refine data as a first step and then it is up to our state legislators to pursue remedies for Lake County to follow. As I said at the meetings, we need to be prepared with accurate data and costs before the State legislature moves on this issue. We all need to position ourselves to be constructive partners in the process of legislation that will provide best practice and the most efficient governance.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Will You Step Forward?

A few weeks ago I wrote in my blog about saving 4.4 million by changing to a Centralized Assessment System in Lake County. I provided a Lake County Report and Power Point that discussed a Centralized System in Lake County that would eliminate 18 Township Assessors and produce 4.4 million in savings. Like all positive change in this world, it does not come without some negative outcomes that challenges ourselves and our relationships with others. Pain will simply be an unintended consequence as we move forward in transitioning government to align our citizens ability and willingness to produce revenues to support governmental service structures. But it is our job as elected officials to present choices that will produce overall good for our residents and remain sustainable so we can provide needed core services for the future. It is the Citizen's job to support or reject those choices. Citizens make those choices by referendum or voting for a candidate. More information from articles in Tribune / News Sun and Daily Harold.

Strongly supporting open space preservation through purchases, land use petition conditions, and easements, I was constantly faced with rational and reasoning of why we should not or could not save the land for nature and our citizens. Reasons included too much money, not a priority, land should be developed for economic growth, not governments job, strangers will be allowed on lands, people will be harmed or killed, and on and on and on. . . . . . Bottom line is there will always be reasons put forward by good well intentioned folks not to do the right thing or make change. But open lands would have not been saved without challenging objectors and protecting our core value of saving open lands by promoting positive reasons to make it happen.

I have chose to move forward and create positive change, will you? As we move forward on this discussion of Centralized Assessments in Lake County, I need you to raise your voice in support by emailing, calling, and participating in the public process. You need to step forward and continue to express your concern about high property taxes and demand your elected representatives do more to reduce the tax burden placed upon you. It can be done through constructive dialog and cooperation.

Just like the objectors to the Open Space discussion people will come up with many reasons not to proceed. Don't let them stop the discussion. The League of Women Voters of Highland Park had proposed a study on the viability of township government but unfortunately some league members STOPPED that study dead in its tracks. Objectors to reform in government will again blame the schools for your taxes and will say this reform will produce only a small savings on your property taxes. While there is some truth to those assertions, reform across all governments including the 4.4 million projected savings by elimination of Township Assessors should move forward as a viable starting point for providing a less burdensome taxation and removal of waste for our residents.

So Will You Step Forward and help support my efforts on Township Assessor Elimination and save 4.4 million for Lake County?

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Ben E. King and musical transformation on us

As I am well into my 23rd year in government I am hoping that my fellow electeds will stand by me on pursuing governmental reform. I think about all the progress we can make for our citizens when contemplating all these opportunities up on the roof. As we work through all the issues we face in government and are faced with challenges to increase taxes, fees, and not changing governments structure, please save the last dance for me and let us stay true to our citizens by reforming, consolidating, and always searching for efficiencies. I keep waiting for that magic moment when we all fall in a harmonious rhythm of positive change.

Music can deliver us to moments and places we love and need. Rest in Peace Ben E King.