Editor's note: This story was corrected to show that it's the Bourbonnais Fire Protection District seeking a property tax increase through a referendum.
While elections most often spotlight candidates and their opposing views as how to govern, the March 17 primary has several critical referendum questions for voters to answer.
The questions boil down to a simple choice: Are voters willing to increase their own taxes to fund what area leadership consider vital to the area’s future?
Referendum questions deal with Kankakee and Iroquois river flooding issues, fire department equipment and personnel needs, and a sales tax increase.
One community is asking its residents if the town should allow a recreational marijuana business.
Because this is a primary election, some voters refrain from voting so as to not be forced to declare political party affiliation. However, voters can request a non-partisan ballot allowing them to vote only on the referendum in their area or residence.
Here are brief overviews of the referendum questions that will appear on ballots:
Kankakee River Conservancy District
Question: For joining the Kankakee River Conservancy District and assuming a proportionate share of bonded indebtedness, or against joining the Kankakee River Conservancy District and assuming a proportionate share of bonded indebtedness?
Background: The proposed conservancy district property tax would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $24 per year. The district is seeking to expand the existing district and collect an additional $450,000 to mainly seek solutions to flooding issues along the Kankakee River as it travels through Kankakee County.
The question will be on the ballot of 24,000 of Kankakee County’s 66,000 registered voters.
Conservancy District in Iroquois County
Question: Shall a Conservancy District be organized, with authority to levy an annual tax at a maximum rate of .083% (maximum rate authorized under Section 17 of the River Conservancy District Act) of the value of all taxable property within the limits of the District as equalized or assessed by the Department of Revenue?
Background: Voters in the Iroquois County townships of Middleport, Concord, Belmont and Iroquois, plus portions of Ashkum, Chebanse, Martinton and Papineau townships, will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on the question.
The tax revenue would be used to combat Iroquois River flood waters. For the owner of a $100,000 house, the tax would cost $38 per year and generate $93,000 annually.
Cannabis in Grant Park
Question: Should the Village of Grant Park allow cannabis dispensary businesses to sell adult-use (recreational) cannabis at retail within the Village?
Background: In December, village trustees unanimously voted to place a non-binding referendum on the ballot. Even if the referendum passes, it would be considerable time before there would be a possibility of a dispensary being opened in Grant Park.
Bradley sales tax
Question: Shall the Village of Bradley, for the purpose of granting property tax relief or for expenditure on public infrastructure or both, as well as for the purpose of supporting municipal operations, impose a Non-Home Rule Municipal Retailer’s Occupation Tax, Non-Home Rule Municipal Service Occupation Tax and Non-Home Rule Municipal Use Tax (commonly referred to as “Municipal Sales Taxes”) each at a rate of 1%?
Background: The Bradley referendum seeks to increase the sales tax rate in the village from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent, thereby increasing projected annual sales tax revenues from $7.3 million to $10.5 million. As a trade-off to village residents for the higher tax rate, the village has stated it would eliminate its portion of the property tax by returning $2 million to property owners in the form of a tax rebate.
Bourbonnais property tax
Question: Shall the limiting rate under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law for the Bourbonnais Fire Protection District, Kankakee County, Illinois, be increased by an additional amount equal to 0.85% above the limiting rate for the purpose of fire protection and ambulance service by levy year 2018 and be equal to 1.2917% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property herein for levy years 2020, 2021 and 2023? Error found: The question will appear this way on the ballot due to an error. Village officials say they are seeking a .4083 percent increase to the maximum allowable rate of 0.85%.
Background: For the owner of a $100,000 home, the owner would see their tax bill increase from $135.33 to $283.33. The district covers 36 square miles and 36,000 people. If approved, fire administration would seek to add three more firefighters/paramedics to all three shifts, as well as equipment upgrades.
Note: Though it’s an error, if the referendum is approved as written, the district could legally increase the tax rate by .85%. However, officials with the Bourbonnais Fire Protection District have pledged they would not exceed the overall rate of 1.2917 percent.
Limestone fire district
Question: Shall the limiting rate under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law for the Limestone Fire Protection District, Kankakee County, Illinois, be increased by an additional amount equal to 0.3933% above the limiting rate for the purpose of fire protection and ambulance service for levy year 2018 and be equal to .98% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein for levy years 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023?
Background: For a median house in Limestone Township valued at $172,800, the owner would see the tax bill increased to $564 per year, up from $338 — a 66 percent increase. The tax increase would expire in four years.
In addition to equipment upgrades, the tax would increase firefighter pay, now at $9 an hour, and paramedic pay, now at $12 an hour, by $1 per hour every year until 2015.
Grant Park fire district
Question: Shall the limiting rate under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law for the Grant Park Fire Protection District, Kankakee County, Illinois, be increased by an additional amount equal to 0.35% above the limiting rate for the purpose of fire protection and ambulance service for levy year 2018 and be equal to 1.0492% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein for levy years 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023?
Background: For a median house in Grant Park valued at $180,000, the homeowner would see their bill increased from $415 to $623 per year, a 66 percent hike.
The projected additional $260,000 would allow the department to address three areas: vehicle replacement, staffing and equipment replacement. The fire district covers more than 60 square miles and 5,000 people.