A referendum from the Marengo Fire Protection District authorizing a property tax increase to help fund benefit options for firefighters and paramedics was incorrectly written on election ballots on Tuesday.
Both referendums for the Marengo Fire Protection District and Marengo Rescue Squad District as they appeared on ballots Tuesday posed the question of whether the rescue squad district should levy a special tax at a rate not to exceed 0.4 percent of the value of all taxable property within the district.
Although this was the request for the rescue district, the fire protection district was asking for the limiting rate for the district by increased by an additional amount equal to roughly 0.079 percent above the limit rate for the 2017 levy year.
If these referendums pass, a Marengo homeowner with a home valued at $100,000 could see a property tax increase of about $45 a year, fire district officials have said. For a Union resident, the increase could be about $19 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.
McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio said he had spoken with the attorney for the Marengo Fire Protection District and McHenry County State’s Attorney and they agreed the best approach was to post the correct language of the fire protection district referendum in the affected polling places. The correct question was posted in polling places by noon Tuesday.
“There’s no way to change the ballot at this point, as you can imagine,” Tirio said Tuesday evening.
Tirio added that it’s hard to say at this point whether this will affect the validity of ballots cast before the notifications were posted. However, the clerk's office will record the votes as cast and if there is an objection, it will work with the affected parties to sort things out.
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said he is really concerned about issues like this, especially with low voter turnout where a few votes can make a difference in a race or the passage of a referendum.
“I don’t want to see anyone disenfranchised,” Franks said.
Marengo wasn’t the only community experiencing voting problems on a referendum, according to Franks.
The county board chairman also heard that entire streets did not include the Woodstock Fire District referendum, which, if approved, would raise the property tax levy by 20 percent to address staffing levels, capital improvements and emergency vehicle needs.
Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said the board would not be involved in determining if the votes are valid.
Generally speaking, if a tax rate was incorrectly explained on the ballot then any taxpayer affected by the referendum or the parties whom the referendum would benefit could potentially contest the results, Dietrich said. That process would unfold in open court, where a judge would ultimately decide whether the misprint was serious enough to confuse residents about what they were voting for. If so, the clerk's office could be made to host another election for the referendum.
• Northwest Herald reporter Katie Smith contributed.