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Local Column

Olson: Cut property taxes and benefit everyone

If you’re wondering what effect the upcoming local elections will have on property taxes in DeKalb County, consider this: So far, more County Board candidates have told me they are socialists than have said it’s a priority for them to cut property taxes.

That’s not a knock on Dave Rathke, a Democrat from District 8 who, judging by the policies he espouses (Medicare for all, free college tuition, a “living wage” for all citizens) sincerely is a socialist. It takes all kinds.

However, when I’ve asked County Board candidates whether cutting property taxes is a priority for them, in general they’ve been pretty blasé. The stock response has been that the county budget (now on public display at the county clerk’s office, 110 Sycamore St. in Sycamore, and online at dekalbcounty.org) is balanced, the reserve fund is growing and the county only takes about 10 percent of your property tax bill – so what’s the big deal?

That point of view is why property taxes tend to go up instead of down, year after year. It’s the reason why, when you get your property tax bill next year, it may say you owe $8,000 or more. It’s why your mortgage company soon may notify you your escrow balance is short again, and you’re going to have to pay more each month to keep your house.

Maybe state lawmakers will help us make this change by reducing the reliance on property taxes for funding local government. Indeed, some of those running for office say they plan to do just that – but then, they say a lot of things.

Counting on a bigger unit of government to solve local problems just isn’t the best – or swiftest – plan of action most of the time.

What if, instead of collecting more in property taxes each year, every taxing district in the county pledged to reduce what they collected from the public by 5 percent for one year?

I know, government almost never willingly reduces its tax take, but follow me on this flight of fancy, anyway.

Just imagine what could happen with an across-the-board property tax cut. Businesses and homeowners would save hundreds and thousands of dollars. A lot of it, they’d probably spend right here in DeKalb County and boost the local economy.

With lower taxes, the area would be more attractive to businesses and homebuilders. We could market ourselves as a low-tax Illinois county.

Between accelerated growth and more money in the local economy rather than taken by government, maybe everyone would thrive, including the local governments themselves.

Any of this would be predicated on government finding a way to operate with less money, which is something government does not like to do very much. But if the union members and the department heads and the elected officials all came to realize that the taxes being levied are stifling the local economy, they could make a change that would help everyone in the long run.

Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-757-5549, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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