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Lombard property taxes frozen, but not without opposition

LOMBARD – For the first time in 20 years, residents of Lombard will not see a rise in property taxes after trustees voted 4-2 to approve a freeze on the increase at an Oct. 17 meeting.

"The tax payers are telling us they've had enough of the constant property tax hikes with no increase in services," said Trustee Peter Breen, who introduced the freeze that cuts roughly one quarter million dollars from next year's proposed Lombard property tax levy. "When I saw we had good surpluses and our village was in sound financial condition, I believed it was time to return the savings to the people in the village."

Breen said he has been working for the last 2.5 years to get property tax relief for Lombard residents. He said last year the village was able to get rid of the village vehicle sticker fee, but this year he was pleased to get the four votes needed to freeze property taxes.

Trustees Reid Foltyniewicz, Dan Whittington and Laura Fitzpatrick joined Breen in approving the freeze.

"One of my main problems was that taxes were being raised automatically to the maximum amount allowable without regard to whether we as a government need that money to run operations in the following one to five years," Breen said.

The two trustees who voted against the proposal included Bill Ware and Mike Fugiel. Ware said his primary reason for voting no was because this is a compounding issue and will cost the village money over time that could be used to improve services.

"Basically this boils down to $6.67 per household per year, so you're talking about 55 cents a month we're saving somebody," Ware said. "Every penny counts, I fully agree, but what people don't realize is in 10 years that $250,000, or $6.67 that we save somebody, actually evolves to $2.9 million because of the compounding interest."

Ware said it was evident that the village has flooding issues after the storms experienced in April. He said the village needs to continue to improve those water issues.

"I want to make sure we continue to keep our services up and I believe that by doing so we need to take our fair share of the tax levy because I want to know now how we're going to make up $2.9 million," Ware said.

Fugiel agreed with Ware and said he sees a lot of needs the money could go toward, primarily with flooding issues and infrastructure.

"I think [the village] can afford it, but I think what you're doing is you're potentially jeopardizing the capital improvement program, the schedule, as well as some necessary needs as far as flooding issues in this community," Fugiel said. "We all know from last April that there's plenty of them out there."

Breen said under state law, in order for a municipality to increase property taxes more than roughly the rate of inflation, it has to put that property tax increase to the voters for a referendum. In Lombard, that's led to the village and other local units of government issuing automatic property tax increases to the maximum amount allowed before the issue has to be put to the voters.

"Tax dollars are the peoples' money and the government should only take as much as it needs in order to provide basic services and the rest should be returned to the people," Breen said. "That's the real issue here."

This year, the village will put about $1.8 million into its utility tax reserve, which provides a cushion for fluctuations in future costs and a source of funds for future tax relief for residents, Breen said. Lombard's annual budget is about $85 million.

Breen said the village has about $46 million in assets and maintains full 25 percent reserves on its fund balances. The Lombard village property tax levy has increased from more than $4 million in 1992 to more than $6 million in 2002 to more than $8.5 million in 2012.

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