URBANA — Local governments should be receiving a full half of their property-tax money by the end of this month, according to Champaign County Treasurer Laurel Prussing.
But that may be small comfort for taxing districts that were counting on the money sooner.
In years past, Tolono's Unit 7 school district, for example, would have had 50 to 60 percent of its total property-tax money in hand by June 30, according to Superintendent Andrew Larson.
This year, the district has received a bit over $2 million of the $5 million it had expected to receive by June 30, he said.
A month’s delay in the tax cycle this year came with little warning, and it has bumped the frustration level among school superintendents in Champaign County to high, Larson said.
“I’d love to move my fiscal year from July 1 to August 1, and we’d all be happy, but I can’t do that,” he said. “I’ve lost a little faith in the system.”
Prussing said she has been taking the heat for the payment delay, though the treasurer’s office actually has the last job in the property-tax cycle.
Taxing districts have been calling her office steadily, looking for updates on when they’ll get their tax money, she said.
“At one point, the phone was ringing about every 30 seconds,” Prussing said.
She and other county officials blame the state for supplying Champaign County’s multiplier late this year — a delay that resulted in property-tax bills being mailed later than usual and the due date for the first installment payments being pushed from the usual June 1 to July 1.
“It was the state that threw everything off this year,” Prussing said.
The county multiplier is supplied by the Illinois Department of Revenue, and it’s a figure that’s applied to keep assessments of properties at 33.3 percent of their market values. The state issued Champaign County a final multiplier of 1.0000 in late April, the same as the tentative multiplier issued in August 2018.
Prussing: Not my fault
Some government officials have been understanding when she has explained the reasons for the delay, Prussing said, but others “blame it on me. The last person on the chain gets all the calls.”
The delay is more of an issue for local governments that are heavily dependent on property taxes to pay their bills.
That’s not the case in Urbana, for example, where property taxes fund about 12 to 13 percent of the general fund, and most of that money gets passed through to pension funds, said city Finance Director Elizabeth Hannan.
By June 30, the city would typically have received half of its property-tax money, and so far it has received just 23 percent of the total, she said.
While the payment delay isn’t stressing the city at this point, the Urbana Free Library may be in a different situation.
The city also levies property taxes for the library, Hannan said, and the library depends on those payments for about three-fourth of its revenue, “so they’re in a similar boat to the school districts.”
The Urbana City Council authorized a short-term, no-interest $500,000 loan for the library if that becomes necessary while tax payments are being delayed, Hannan said.
As of Monday, she said, “they have not yet needed us to do that.”
Meanwhile, Larson said his district has good reserves, “so I think we’re not going to have to worry too much about a deficit reduction plan.”
Still, he’s concerned about how the payment delay in Champaign County will affect school districts’ bond ratings and what could end up being a higher cost of borrowing. And he contended this situation could have been avoided.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Everybody’s pointing fingers at everybody else.”
St. Joseph-Ogden High School Superintendent Brian Brooks said he, too, is concerned about a drop in bond ratings.
“There’s a chance we’ll have to do a budget reduction plan,” he said.
Not only that, Brooks said the delay in Champaign County is effectively skewing two fiscal years because money that should have been posted by June 30 will wind up in the following fiscal year.
Typically by June 30, the district has received 55 to 66 percent of its tax money, and as of June 30 this year, it had received about 24 percent, Brooks said.
“It’s frustrating, because we feel like we’ve done our part,” he said.
If there’s good news for Champaign County’s taxing districts, it may be that they shouldn’t have to worry about the same delay in getting the second half of their tax money for the year.
The due date for the second property tax installment payments is Sept. 3, about the same date it usually is, Prussing said.