SYCAMORE – After a Daily Chronicle investigation discovered the city of Sycamore overtaxed residents nearly $120,000 in 2023, city officials said they still aren’t sure how they’ll fix the situation.
“City Council needs to decide if they want to refund the $120,000,” Sycamore City Manager Michael Hall said at a Nov. 20 City Council meeting. “And we went to the county, they do not want to be involved in any kind of give back of the money, so that would leave it up to the city to decide how to do that.”
How that money could be given back is still up in the air.
Sycamore Finance Director Kristian Dominquez said about 7,000 properties need to be analyzed to determine how much tax money should be given back to the property owners. How long will that take to do? Dominquez said he doesn’t know.
“Really, I don’t know. I’ve never done this before, I’ve never heard of it,” Dominquez said.
Hall has said most taxpayers were overtaxed $10 to $20. He also said some property owners may have only overpaid by cents, potentially making it more costly for the city to mail the rebate than to not. Large businesses likely overpaid by hundreds of dollars.
Five different 2024 tax levy proposals have been put forth before the council. A public hearing for residents to wiegh in on a tax levy proposal is expected to take place during Monday’s Sycamore City Council meeting at 6 p.m. at the City Center, 308 W. State St. downtown.
One option would reduce the city’s property tax levy extension total by the amount the city over taxed residents this year. Another option would keep that total the same as it was (erroneously) this year. Option one would likely reduce how much a property owner pays in taxes by about $17 a year, documents show, while option two would create nominal change.
Three other property tax levy options would raise the estimated amount of taxes an average property owner would pay the city on an annual basis by $18.49, $41.98 or $58.65, documents show.
The City Council is expected to make a decision on next year’s tax levy, and budget, in December. No vote has yet occurred.
Hall said city officials didn’t catch what he has called a “clerical error,” when the city’s second part of its Fiscal 2023 budget was approved in May 2023. The city’s realignment of its fiscal year starting Jan. 1, 2024 may help prevent similar errors in the future, Hall said.
“It’s quite obvious now we don’t have that lag in five months, where we have the levy is set, five months later we set a budget. That’s changed now. So now we’ll have them at the exact same time. And two, there was no policy set in place for the finance department to actually check all ordinances that included a financial component,” Hall said. “So that’s now part of their responsibility.”
A presentation regarding the overtaxation, and preliminary options for next year’s property tax levy extension, was slated toward the beginning of the Nov. 20 meeting, but with the chamber room overflowing with people the presentation was moved to the tail-end of the public meeting.
When the item was up next on the agenda, City Mayor Steve Braser encouraged members of the public to leave before the presentation began.
“At this point, the people who are here for the [Windows Distillery proposal], if you want to hang around you can but we’re just going to get into some other considerations that you may not be interested in,” Braser said.
State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, was one of the members of the public who attended the meeting. The next day Keicher said he was happy to see the people of Sycamore show up for the meeting to support a proposed distillery and event space, but took issue with the agenda change.
“I was, however, disappointed that the Sycamore Mayor changed the agenda and pushed another item, the overtaxation discussion, until the end after all the other business so the room wasn’t filled with taxpayers,” Keicher wrote in a Facebook post. “Folks present last night supporting the revitalization project would have been interested in hearing more about too much taxes taken, I’m sure of that.”