Oswego tax revolt rally draws a crowd : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Oswego tax revolt rally draws a crowd|
|Organizers want local agencies to trim budgets; restore '08 tax rates|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
A tax revolt rally held Friday afternoon in Oswego's Hudson Crossing Park was considered a success by organizers as more than 30 people showed up in the first half hour.
The event continued until 8 p.m., giving people who worked a chance to attend.
The rally was led by Jan Alexander and Greg O'Neil, both of Oswego.
The event was intended to get residents interested in becoming involved in the workings of government. The group putting on the rally also wanted to tell people how they can protest their property taxes and work to get them reduced.
Mark Johnson, along with Judy and Don Burks were successful in organizing a rally in Yorkville last month, so Alexander asked for their help in holding a rally in Oswego. More than 300 people attended the Yorkville rally.
"We just want to know what's going on, where we can save money and hopefully we can get the tax rates turned back to 2008," Alexander said. "That's our target."
"If we can get people to attend meetings and become educated, I think this can be a success. I think people have finally hit the bottom so if they get involved I think we can find some money that's being wasted and put it to better use," she said.
"For so long we had lots of money. We had jobs. Home values were going up and we were fat, sassy and secure," she said.
Alexander noted that taxing bodies have been spending everything they could get and are now coming back and asking for more.
"This is wrong. This is the wrong philosophy. They have to go back and economize," she added, referring to elected officials.
Alexander said they are encouraging people to file the necessary forms with the county to have their property taxes lowered.
One woman said the county had her home assessed for a higher value than it was worth because its value had been lowered when the housing bubble burst a couple years ago. The rally supporters encouraged her to file the proper forms to get the property reassessed, closer to its market value.
Alexander said she has filed twice to have her assessment lowered and it has been reduced both times.
"This is the first thing we tell people to do," she said. "It doesn't cost anything except a little time," she added.
In addition to filling out the sheets and asking that their assessments be lowered, Alexander said they are encouraging people to attend public board meetings and call or email their elected officials with their comments and thoughts.
"The people need to learn what board members are doing, why they are doing it, and become active to make sure their voices are heard and things are changed," Alexander said.
She said elected officials are accessible by phone or email and her experience has been that they respond within a reasonable time, Alexander said.
Burks said she always encourages people to run for public office if the people in office are not doing what they want them to do.
"And being in public office should make you joyful. I don't recommend it if it won't make you joyful," she added.
Burks said a state representative told her once that 17 people called him on an issue and he considered that to be a large number because people rarely contacted him on issues.
"Without change, a lot of us won't be able to live in Oswego. It's just too high priced. And if you get rid of the middle class, you get rid of everything because the poor people can't afford it and the rich people have loopholes-- so who's going to pay the taxes? And that's what it is," Alexander said.
She added she has seen taxes go up a lot since moving here in 1997.
county official at rally
Oswego Village President Brian LeClercq attended the event and told residents the village was the only taxing body in Kendall County that did not raise its property tax rate this past year.
"I think it's great that the people are having a rally, but I want to know what they're going to do about the taxes beside having a rally," LeClercq said.
He said the village board invites the people to their meetings and would welcome them to show the board how to save more money.
During the first hour Kendall County Board member Dan Koukol showed up and talked about the county with residents. One person asked about a farm that the county purchased recently.
Koukol said he opposed the purchase but was outnumbered by the yes votes.
One resident said they paid $20,000 per acre for the land which was just undeveloped farm land, identical to land that could have been purchased within a mile of there for $12,000 an acre.
Greg O'Neil, a former Kendall County Board member said he has been critical of the Oswego School District for its wasteful spending. He added that two school board members told him they would attend the event to answer his questions.
O'Neil said the new school board, which campaigned on being fiscally responsible, saved money by killing the construction of a third high school that had been approved by the previous board. But, they then turned around and gave a new administrator $42,000 more than the person he replaced and also paid a new superintendent a higher salary, he added.
A woman who was listening chimed in and agreed with O'Neil and said four school board members would be up for re-election in April.
"The people are saying you have to stop spending," Don Burks said.
When one resident said she did not want to see people lose their jobs through budget cuts, Burks responded that there are always places to cut without laying off people.
"Then after that, look at each of the taxing bodies and what they are charging us. Even if your assessment is low, if the school district, park district and all others are asking for a larger percentage, it's not going to help us. So we're trying to get people who have the same interest as we do, to sign up to put a stop to increased taxation in Oswego," Judy Burks said.
"This also includes Kendall County. Some of the things we're paying for there I don't think are proper like county board members who are part-time; we're paying full benefits for them--$8,000 to $12,000 for their health and welfare. I think that's waste," Alexander said.
"That's just one area where we could save money and there are lots of others," she added.
They had petitions on the table for residents to sign that will be delivered to the Kendall County Board and other taxing bodies asking them to roll all taxes back 20 percent. There was space on the petition for them to add their personal comments and the petition is available online, she noted.
spending a concern
O'Neil, who said he frequently writes letters to Oswego School District Board members, noted schools are in session for 180 days a year and closed for 185 days a year, yet school officials complain about not having room for the students. He said officials claim the unions keep them from making changes.
O'Neil said some school board members told him they would attend the rally.
"The members who campaigned for fiscal responsibility said they would be needing another referendum at some point and my taxes have already gone up $1,400. There's no way I would vote for it," he said.
"We're going to have to figure out how to get more out of what we have," he said, noting that the schools are used only half of the time.
"I know we have unions to deal with, but we're supposed to have local control which is (through) the board and that means not the unions, not the state or department of education. That's us and we're going to determine how we're going to use our resources," he said.
"I don't want to be a constant critic, but they open themselves up for it," he said, adding he does not believe the new administration will be any different than the past ones.
He said he could understand the reasons School Board President Bill Walsh increased wages for newly hired administrators, "...but what do you think is the message this sent to the other employees? What do you think during the negotiations is the first thing they throw out on the table? You paid the administration 30 percent more and they're gong to keep slamming that on the table until they get their money," he said.
A woman said she was not happy the school district paid a new superintendent $250,000 who had just left a job where he was paid only $176,000.
"There's so many people out of work they could have hired people for less money," she said.
O'Neil noted that if an agency imposes a five percent tax increase, it never sees a full amount because some people and businesses figure a way to avoid it, and some businesses will move from the area to avoid the tax.
One resident said he wondered how many students the school district lost because of home foreclosures.
Judy Burks said she would like to see more elected officials turn out for these events, "...so they could hang out with the people they represent and talk to them about how the decisions they make impact them on a daily living basis, not just their tax bill."
Burks said the comment she heard most at the Yorkville rally was that people were having a hard time paying their taxes and were concerned about whether they would be able to continue living there.
"That was the general theme. They cannot raise the taxes any more. The people cannot pay what they ( the taxes) are now," she said
One person said the area needs more business and commercial to increase its tax base.
LeClercq noted that people don't like seeing the vacant Alexander Lumber property on Washington Street and said a developer wanted the village to give them $10.6 million dollars to develop the site.
"Do you want us to give up $10.6 million of your tax money?" he asked.
"No. As long as someone is still paying taxes on the property, that's fine," a resident said.
Mark Johnson, a member of the Yorkville group, said it was nice to see some political people attend the event.
"We're getting people to start talking instead of letting it build up inside," he said in regard to the tax problem. "It gives them an avenue to vent."