Sycamore overtaxed residents nearly $120K without City Council approval, records show

City officials blame “clerical error” for collecting extra funds in property tax revenue, according to Tuesday statement

(From left) Sycamore City Manager Michael Hall, looks on as city attorney Kevin Buick crosses off an item on a sheet of paper while 1st Ward Alderperson Alan Bauer speaks during the Sept. 5 2023 Sycamore City Council meeting.

SYCAMORE – Sycamore overtaxed its residents by nearly $120,000 on their 2022 city property tax bills, taxing them at a higher rate than what the City Council approved, a Daily Chronicle review of tax records found.

According to city officials, Sycamore residents were overtaxed an average of about $10 to $20.

In a statement released Tuesday morning after the Chronicle began asking about its findings, city officials acknowledged the overtaxation and blamed it on a “clerical error.”

The 2022 property tax levy the Sycamore City Council approved in December 2022 was not the same levy that went out to taxpayers for 2022 bills payable this year, according to multiple government documents including DeKalb County tax records from the DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, city and Sycamore City Council minutes.

“The City contacted the County immediately upon learning of this error and is actively developing options to rectify it,” the statement reads. “This matter will be discussed at the next meeting of the City Council on Monday, November 20th at 6:00 PM, and information will be published to the City’s website and social media channels to keep our community informed as we work to resolve this error.”

Public records requests revealed that the city levied property taxes at a higher rate – 0.7% instead of the approved 0.68% rate – for 2022 property tax bills, paid in 2023. Instead of bringing in the expected additional revenue of $600,000, the city brought in $719,991, about $120,000 more than was approved by elected officials, according to DeKalb County documents.

The higher tax collection was not approved by the City Council, however. The City Council did vote to increase property taxes in 2022, the Daily Chronicle previously reported, but not by that much.

“During preparation of the City’s tax levy proposal for tax year 2023 (payable 2024), a clerical error was discovered in the amount levied for tax year 2022 (payable 2023),” the city statement reads.

In total, Sycamore city collected $3.9 million in property tax revenue instead of the expected $3,785,960.

The 2022 tax year computational report Sycamore City Manager Michael Hall submitted to the DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder Office in March 2023.

Records show that City Manager Michael Hall signed a tax computational report in March 2023, which was submitted to the DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. In that report, the total levy rate is 0.703%, not what the City Council approved in December.

Hall said the city sent documents to DeKalb County within days of the December 2022 vote which approved the city’s tax levy. When he signed the tax computation report in March, he didn’t check to see if the numbers matched what was voted on, just what had been written into the ordinance, Hall said Tuesday.

“I did not go back and check and see, ‘Wait, what did they vote on versus what was given to them in December,’” Hall said. “So four months, three months later there was no, there’s no check to say ‘Oh, wait, that’s not what was voted on’ because that’s what was submitted in December.”

A draft of the city’s 2022 property tax levy was prepared ahead of the Dec. 19, 2022, Sycamore City Council meeting which originally assumed a rate collection that ended up different than the final approved version. According to the minutes for that meeting, Hall told the Council he would have to change the numbers on the tax levy ordinance to reflect what the elected officials decided upon before submitting it to the county.

Hall confirmed revenue from the property tax hike was used to hire three firefighters and two police officers, which was a part of the original plan approved by the City Council in December.

Sycamore resident Ted Strack, who also is on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Sycamore Park District Board of Commissioners, recently attended a Nov. 6 city meeting to voice concerns about a proposed new Sycamore Fire Department fire station and how the city was going to pay for it.

When informed of the tax error, Strack said he understands that mistakes happen, although he still has concerns about Sycamore’s overall taxes.

“Everybody’s fallible, and I believe the city when they say was a clerical or numeric mistake, so I’m not going to be critical of that. If you’re not making any mistakes you’re not doing very much,” Strack said Tuesday. “My bigger issue is just the overall tax burden that the residents of Sycamore are baring, granted the city of Sycamore’s piece of it is relatively small and the big heavy hitter is the school district.”

Fourth Ward Alderwoman Virginia Sherrod said on Tuesday she wasn’t aware of the discrepancy.

“I do know that the city has done an awesome job in trying to not put a heavy burden on our community as far as taxes go, and sometimes you can’t help it,” Sherrod said. “However, I did not know there was that big of a gap in the amount they had quoted to us.”

This story was updated at 12:25 p.m. Nov. 14, 2023 to clarify previously incorrect information provided by the city of Sycamore about how much money residents were overtaxed. An updated city statement says residents were overtaxed by $10 to $20 per household. Another update was made at 4:54 p.m. Nov. 14, 2023 to include comment from Sycamore resident Ted Strack.

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