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Executive Director of Taxpayers United of America, Rae Ann McNeilly, was quoted for a front page synopsis for the Daily Herald on expanding the St Charles Library.
Voters said “no” a few years ago to expanding the St. Charles library, but now library officials are pursuing a scaled-back expansion anyway.
They say they’ve saved up reserves for an $8.5 million addition that won’t entail a tax hike.
St. Charles library profits
2014: -$36,717 (deficit)
Source: St. Charles Public Library audits
The problem, some critics say, is that if they weren’t contributing to reserves, taxpayers could have gotten a tax reduction.
That’s one of the tax issues included in this helping of something we like to call watchdog kibble, a collection of updates and investigations into tips from readers.
Also in this serving: Illinois State Police tally up their overtime costs in the investigation into disgraced Fox Lake police Lt. Joe Gliniewicz’s suicide, and the reasons why the Naperville Park District board voted to leave the Illinois Association of Park Districts.
‘Entitled’ to grow?
St. Charles Library District voters soundly rejected a $35 million expansion and tax hikes that would have paid for it and additional operational costs five years ago. But recently, library officials hired an architectural firm to design a scaled-down addition with a potential price tag of $8.5 million.
Library officials say the expansion will not require a property tax hike because they have the money set aside in a “special reserve fund.” Critics charge library officials are ignoring voters’ wishes by going forward with expansion plans and have been overtaxing residents for years to feed the reserve fund.
According to the library’s financial audits from 2006 to 2015, the district has generated $6,032,137 more than it spent during that time, mostly from property taxes. In 2015 alone, the library received nearly $7.5 million in property taxes, while spending less than $6.5 million.
If library officials had requested property taxes equal to its expenditures last year, it would have reduced its tax collections by more than 15 percent. That would have saved the owner of a $300,000 home in the district about $50 in property taxes last year, according to a Daily Herald analysis of the district’s tax levy.
Generally accepted accounting principles suggest at least two months of operating costs be kept in reserve by government agencies in case of emergency. The St. Charles library’s reserves amount to almost a year and a half of operating costs.
Library board President Tory Haines said the district, in Kane and DuPage counties, takes advantage of any property tax increases allowed under the state’s tax cap law, which limits how much a taxing body can receive based on the rate of inflation.
“We, being fiscally responsible, are entitled to levy what we’re entitled to,” Haines said. “It is in our fund and we have the right to spend it for the right things.”
But others say library officials are not being good stewards of the public’s taxes.
“You’re not entitled to a penny of my money that I don’t approve,” said Rae Ann McNeilly, executive director of Taxpayers United of America, a Chicago-based group that fights tax-hike measures throughout the country. “They’re totally disregarding what the voters clearly told them.”
In 2010, dual referendum questions failed to secure the funding necessary for expansion. Combined, nearly 57 percent of the votes rejected both requests.
But Haines believes voters didn’t want to pay extra for the addition, not that they don’t want it at all.
“We were asking the taxpayers for money at the time,” she said. “We have had requests for more space, more quiet study space. We have several areas where the staff are overcrowded. We’re responding to what our public has requested about needing a larger meeting space. The room we have now accommodates about 90 to 100 people and the last two programs we’ve had in there we’ve had to turn people away.”
The last time library officials polled users regarding potential upgrades was in 2007, officials said.
Library officials renovated the existing library in 2014, mainly replacing carpets and shelving.
Haines added that the board has not approved any expansion plans so far and hiring the architects to design any expansion and renovation is “exploratory.”
“We have made no firm commitment,” she said.
The next library board meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11, according to the library’s website.
On the outs
Naperville Park District officials voted unanimously to leave the Illinois Association of Park Districts recently.
The vote came months after a Daily Herald investigation showed the statewide park district lobbying group’s leader, Peter Murphy, was being paid nearly $400,000 annually after a series of salary increases that also drove up taxpayer funding toward his eventual public pension.
Naperville’s exit cost the IAPD about $7,000 in annual dues, park district officials said.
“If there’s a message, it’s to the taxpayers of Naperville that we’re trying to do our best managing taxpayer money,” said Naperville park board President Mike Reilly. “The IAPD will decide if it’s a message to them or not, but we’re not charging up a hill with a flag.”
Reilly said the park district relies on its attorneys, Ancel Glink, for guidance on policies and laws.
Glen Ellyn Park District officials suggested they might leave the IAPD as well, but a vote has been postponed until after the IAPD business meeting later this month. Glen Ellyn Park District Executive Director Dave Harris said board President Julia Nephew wants to attend the meeting to “see if there was any additional information presented” regarding Murphy’s salary and benefits before taking action.
“Following that, the board will certainly take official action,” Harris said.
IAPD officials said Naperville is the only district they are aware of to not renew its membership.
More Gliniewicz costs
A Daily Herald investigation in October revealed 49 suburban law enforcement agencies had spent nearly $200,000 on overtime assisting the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force in the first three weeks of the probe into the Sept. 1 death of Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz.
Now, the Illinois State Police has added nearly $13,000 to that tally.
State police overtime costs were not included in the initial tally because agency officials requested additional time to respond to an open records request.
Eventually those costs were provided and amounted to $12,911, according to the state police response. Agency officials reported 54 troopers were paid an average of $66.06 for 190.5 hours of overtime assisting in the Gliniewicz investigation.
Task force officials said one trooper was assigned to the case for weeks, while the rest of the costs came in the initial days of the case, when Gliniewicz was thought to have been killed in the line of duty by assailants who escaped.
At $45,727, only the Lake County sheriff’s office, which provided 95 different employees to assist in the investigation, spent more on overtime during that time, according to the analysis.
Task force officials said they got help from more than 90 local law enforcement agencies, as well as several federal agencies and the Illinois State Police.
Investigators later determined Gliniewicz had staged his suicide to look like he had succumbed to a gunshot wound during a struggle with multiple offenders. Investigators said he killed himself in an attempt to cover up years of embezzlement and fraud he had perpetrated through his time as leader of a youth program affiliated with the Fox Lake Police Department.