Glencoe examines high tax rate
How Glencoe's government stacks up with its North Shore peers
Updated: January 28, 2013 2:42PM
GLENCOE — A new survey of eight North Shore towns finds the Village of Glencoe has the highest tax rate of any of them.
It also has the highest municipal employee cost-per-resident.
The bad news came from the Village Board, looking to learn where Glencoe stands among its peers, and why. The trustees have a lot of numbers to pore over now, but they found that the more they have, the more they want.
“It’s not just apples and oranges,” Village President Scott Feldman said Dec. 19. “It’s apples, oranges, pears and grapefruit.”
A case in point: Glencoe has the highest tax rate, $1.06 per $100 assessed value, but Glencoe collects garbage for half the cost.
Lake Forest collects garbage for free, and also has a municipal parks department to pay for. Its property tax rate is slightly lower, at 89 cents. Then again, it has more taxable commercial property than Glencoe.
Winnetka also collects garbage and runs its own electrical system. Winnetka’s tax rate: 94 cents.
While Winnetka and Glencoe are almost exactly the same size, Winnetka’s population is 40 percent higher.
“They’ve got a lot more people in the same 4 square miles,” Feldman said.
Who cares? You do. The additional property in Winnetka housing all those additional people means the tax burden is spread around.
“And Wilmette has four times the density of ours,” Feldman added.
Wilmette’s property tax rate is 26 percent lower than Glencoe’s.
Wilmette may soon approve a large, high-end apartment complex on Green Bay Road. More density, lower taxes.
Wilmette also has Edens Plaza, and other sources of sales tax income. Every dollar of sales tax, theoretically, offsets a dollar of property taxes.
Among the eight towns studied, Northbrook has the top annual sales tax income per capita: $432. Not surprising, with a 1 million-square-foot mall on Lake-Cook Road.
Bringing up the rear are Glencoe, Wilmette, Lake Forest and Winnetka, with $199, $143, $135 and $90, respectively.
Glencoe might be dead last if it hadn’t attracted some car dealers in recent years. Sales tax from the dealers should rise a bit soon, too, as agreements to share sales tax revenue with the dealers expire.
Three of these four towns pay the comparatively largest percentages of their expenses with property tax revenue. Wilmette, of course, is different: It has lower sales tax per-capita figures mainly because it’s population is 27,087 – more than three times Glencoe’s size.
Wilmette collected $3.4 million in 2011 sales tax – twice what Glencoe brought in (but a fraction of Highland Park and Northbrook’s take).
Seven of the towns get extra sales tax money because they can set their rates higher through home rule powers. Glencoe voters turned down home-rule status in 1988. A later discussion about it was tabled due to opposition.
Northfield voted itself a home-rule community in 2010, and now charges 3/4 of a penny extra. That brought in $375,000 last year.
What about the high cost of Glencoe employees? “We know we pay people more,” Friedman noted in the workshop meeting.
Glencoe, alone in this part of Illinois, has garnered certification for both fire and police service, but does that excellence show up in a measurable way?
Glencoe Village Board Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Cowans, at a recent workshop asked how fast is the firefighters’ response time?
It’s easy to measure with a typical fire department, but Glencoe has combined fire and police service, which makes everything complicated.
The first Glencoe Public Safety staffer on the scene of the most recent serious house fire was a cross-trained lieutenant in a squad car. He checked for inhabitants and strategized the firefight minutes before the first fire rig arrived.
Glencoe is the only town in the survey with combined departments, so one might expect that its 42 cross-trained public safety officers might be the fewest committed to fire and police services.
Northfield has 26 cops, and 50 firefighter/paramedics – but all 50 are part-time, paid per shift. Cheaper. Deerfield has 54 police officers and no firefighters – that job is done by the Deerfield-Bannockburn Fire Protection District.
Deerfield’s municipal tax rate last year was $0.32, the lowest in the survey, but the fire district’s rate was $0.53.
Glencoe’s higher property tax burden has a philosophical rationale: charge residents for services mainly through property taxes instead of fees, because property taxes are tax deductible.
So Glencoe doesn’t charge several kinds of fees some other towns do. Many are banned, anyway, for lack of home rule.
The attraction, however, has waned with Glencoe’s rising affluence. Many families now pay the Alternative Minimum Tax, which means they can’t deduct their property taxes anymore.
Friedman said this week that making the garbage service 100 percent fee-based could open up more taxing power, but he wouldn’t want that except in an emergency.
As it is, two-year Trustee Andrew Hayek, the impetus behind the survey, wants to cut expenses. He’s been talking cuts since he took office, but often seems satisfied the board has been trying to keep expenses down, anyway.
Now he’s looking at it differently: cut about 1 percent over the next three years, and apply the savings to the village’s police pension debt.
That debt is now 65 percent funded, almost exactly the average among the eight towns. His fellow board members were generally supportive, but first wanted more understanding of what the statistics really mean, so they know how to carve.
Trustee Joe Keefe had a suggestion on the revenue side: sell the public works department building on uptown’s south side, and move the operation to village land on the west side.
That could happen, but a few years ago, a study frowned on the possibility. Drawbacks include the cost of building a new facility and soil pollution remediation on the former site of the village incinerator.