Cuts still a priority in local spending

Friday, October 01, 2010

At a time in Illinois when politicians everywhere seem to turn us off and tune us out, a rare, refreshing thing happened this week.

Trustees in Schaumburg fulfilled two promises made last year to cut the property tax levy and eliminate $20 vehicle stickers. Schaumburg first turned to a property tax last year. Tuesday, trustees voted to lower the levy 4.4 percent from last year and to eliminate the $20 sticker next May.

Wow. What a wonderful thing. Wonderful, partly because it could be an economic indicator of better times ahead for us all seeing as how Schaumburg has a high concentration of retail, including car dealerships.

It's also wonderful, though, because it is such a rare thing for officeholders to cut taxes and fees and to keep promises to do so. Certainly, Schaumburg has the business base to rebound more quickly than many communities. Still, Schaumburg's actions are a model to emulate.

It's budget time for municipal governments and the news elsewhere isn't nearly as good.

Streamwood could have a $2 million deficit by 2012. At the moment, trustees are hoping to cut costs rather than raise taxes or fees.

In Rolling Meadows, aldermen are looking to trim a $1.7 million deficit. The alternative is a 30 percent property tax increase.

While municipal government doesn't consume a majority portion of most homeowners' property tax bills, it still is critical that local officials in every community look for cuts everywhere and anywhere they can find them. We're all struggling in this economy and we simply cannot fund or afford spending increases.

Residents expect, and ought to demand, that every line item be scoured for savings. Every bit of spending must be justified. That is the approach every community and its elected officials should undertake with diligence.

But in Buffalo Grove, trustees are considering creating a local motor fuel tax to help pay for street maintenance. A 3-cent-per-gallon gas tax would generate $384,000 a year. The alternatives to that discussed this week include extending pavement life, but that could create higher costs later, or changing snow removal services. Those or other alternatives anyone can think of ought to be considered and vetted completely.

In Mount Prospect, Naperville and Aurora, officials are preparing to either cut pay and benefits, lay off workers or offer buyouts. Des Plaines did that last year. Now, they're talking about spending $3.3 million less than last year, yet they still want to raise property taxes nearly 2 percent to cover rising pension costs. Are there other options?

We hope we don't see another widespread round of suburban layoffs. We hope Schaumburg's improved outlook spreads. If not, we also know governments cannot simply expect residents to pay more and more and more.