City council looks at cuts to Boneyard beautification

URBANA — After receiving bids much higher than their estimates, administrators are asking the city council to scale back a major project to open the Boneyard Creek to pedestrians and make the storm water ditch an amenity in downtown Urbana.

Alderpersons on Monday night delayed a formal decision on where exactly to cut. But designers have suggested that some features like accent lighting will have to go and some of the materials should be adjusted.

Together, the suggested changes add up to cut an estimated $2.5 million out of what would have been a $10.3 million project. But city staff think the core idea of the project remains intact.

Officials have been planning the project for years, and all along, the budget has been around $7.5 million. When bids opened in July, contractor O'Neil Brothers said they would build the park for $10.3 million, and Stark Excavating offered $14.8 million.

Many of the changes are aesthetic — removing a few benches, not planting some flowers and buying smaller trees will all save a few thousand dollars here and there.

The single biggest change is ditching the plan to use stainless steel throughout the project, like in fencing and hand rails, and instead build metal components with galvanized steel. That change alone will save nearly $1 million.

As far as the metal features, "We can get the same look for the price that we're proposing here," said Greg Dorolek, a landscape architect at Wenk Associates, a consultant hired to design the aesthetics of the Boneyard Creek park.

The goal of the project is to transform a dirty storm water channel in downtown Urbana into an attraction. City officials want the creek to be an amenity and drive traffic to that area.

The main idea remains the same. Stairways and ramps will lead from the sidewalks along Broadway and Race streets down to a trail along the creek, and city officials plan on building connections to businesses along the creek. Beautification features are to be included along the way — some natural and some unnatural.

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on September 18, 2012 at 12:09 am
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Somehow, over the same time period,  Champaign managed to plan & build a gorgeous water-retention basin/visitor destination. I assume property values have exploded for the lucky deed holders. Patioed bodegas, restaurants etc. can't be too far on the horizon.

 

Why can't Urbana learn from its mistakes? Could it be the septuagenarian political leadership still fighting battles of post-Watergate era?

 

Three keys to development of the Boneyard Basin, making it attractive for investors and pleasant for visitors:

  1. Lower license fees
  2. Lower the food & beverage tax to equal Champaign's
  3. Enforce existing ordinances

 

Urbana would also be better off if small-time property rental companies & slum lords weren't abusing the owner occupied exemption. I recently perused the assessors web page and found dozens of examples of fraud, some really obvious.

Here are listings from ONE STREET in Urbana:

It's harder when the owners are just people with typical human names, but c'mon ...

 

Urbana is losing $5000 per property.  

bb wrote on September 18, 2012 at 10:09 am

Yes, that owner-occupied exemption is really abused.  I think the N-G did a story on that a year or two ago.  Who is suppose to monitor that?  The township assessor?  The school & park districts have a lot to gain there too. 

It's wrong to say Urbana is losing $5000 each though - first, the exemption is $6000 now, but the taxes lost on that are a fraction.  My total tax would go up $510 without that exemption, but only about 15% of that, or $76 goes to Urbana.

 

 

bmwest wrote on September 18, 2012 at 7:09 pm
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Yes, bb is correct about the lost tax revenue being just a fraction of the $6000 exemption.  Although some call it an owner-occupied exemption, I believe it's legally referred to as a homestead exemption.  The current law allows it to be applied to any single family residence including rental property, although there has to be a clause in the lease saying part of the rent goes to property taxes in order for that property to qualify for it.  In theory, that tax savings is passed on to the renter via lower rent compared to a similar property that hasn't applied for that exemption.  It's a subjective call as to whether or not it should be allowed to be this way (I'd actually prefer a slight increase in sales tax to eliminate property taxes entirely) but it would be inaccurate to call it fraud.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on September 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm
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I learn. Tell me more.

 

Why is the exemtion figure $6000 if it's not really $6000?  How does $6000 become $510? Where does the rest of that money (not) go?  

 

How can a person claim owner occupancy if the property is rented?

bmwest wrote on September 19, 2012 at 8:09 am
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The basic way that property taxes are calculated is that the assessor estimates the market value of your home and then divides that by 3 to arrive at the "Equalized Assessed Value".  Any exemptions are then subtracted off that EAV to arrive at your taxable value and then that taxable value is multiplied by the tax rate to arrive at the amount you owe in taxes on that property.  So, you could think of the EAV like your income tax's adjusted gross income and the $6000 exemption like a deduction.  A $6000 deduction doesn't reduce your income taxes by $6000 (a $6000 credit would) but rather reduces your taxable income by $6000.  You then multiply your taxable income by your tax rate to determine how much tax you paid/will pay for the year.

Again, the person isn't claiming owner-occupancy.  They're claiming a homestead exemption which current state law allows them to do.  The state lists all property tax exemptions at http://tax.illinois.gov/localgovernment/propertytax/taxrelief.htm and you'll see that there isn't an owner-occupied exemption.  Perhaps it used to be called an owner-occupied exemption at some point in the past but it appears that the county needs to update their system to correct the now inaccurate label.