DeKALB – As DeKalb city leaders mull over what homeowners will pay in property tax for the city’s 2022 proposed tax levy, some city council members questioned DeKalb Public Library spending habits amid efforts to drive down costs.
The debate this week resurfaced concerns brought forward by Mayor Cohen Barnes and others last year. It was related two proposed property tax levies, one by the city of DeKalb and another by the DeKalb Public Library, which still require a final vote to move forward.
The library levy is tied into the vote for the city of DeKalb’s levy.
Barnes called for uniform messaging for area taxing bodies.
“Council has been doing a great job, but we need to continue doing that great job,” Barnes said. “We need to continue speaking from our chamber here ... so that all the other taxing bodies can come together and we can drive that. Then, we can see the increased housing starts, more development, which in the end just means more money for every single solitary taxing body in our community.”
The levies are how the city and library collect revenue when DeKalb homeowners pay their 2022 property tax bills, due in 2023.
Some of the debate also centered around the noted increase in overall property assessment value in the area and what influence that should play in saving homeowners money on their tax bills.
DeKalb city staff last month proposed a levy of 0.91%, which would allow the city to increase its revenue collection by 4% due to the increase in property value, but at no additional cost to homeowners, documents show. The library’s proposed rate of 0.38% would allow it to collect 11% more in revenue at a 1% rate decrease compared to 2021.
Under the city’s proposed tax levy, the municipality expects to collect about $7.1 million in property tax revenue. The library would collect about $2.9 million.
According to the proposed levies, DeKalb homeowners with properties valued at $321,000 would pay about $988 on the city portion of their 2022 property tax bill, about $9.50 less than 2021, city calculations show. On the library portion, those same homeowners would pay about $413 on the library property tax levy, about $23 more than 2021.
The DeKalb City Council voted 8-0 to give its property tax proposal an initial greenlight, though a final vote is still needed and expected to come at its next meeting.
According to city calculations provided by the DeKalb County Assessor’s Office, DeKalb’s estimated pool of property assessment value sits at $780,000,000. That includes a projected $40 million which represents property value from new construction added to the city’s south side over the past year, including significant development from social media giant Meta and online retailer Amazon.
Barnes questioned why the library’s rate wasn’t lower.
Library executive director Emily Faulkner replied, saying library officials do projections two months before city leaders do, and before the county assessor’s office releases its final figures.
“We had to give you a draft budget back in September,” Faulkner said. “… A lot it is guesswork on our part. Ours start two months further out again. ... The guesswork that the city does doesn’t really start happening until after ours has been completed.”
Faulkner said the library’s goal is to keep its property tax levy rate flat or lowered. Barnes said he believes more work could be done. He said he believes DeKalb area taxing bodies should work cooperatively to decrease tax burdens on residents.
“My concern overall, though, again is we have an 11.1% overall aggregate tax rate,” Barnes said. “And I understand you’re a small part. The city is a small part. We’re less than 10% of this whole part. But it’s going to take all taxing bodies working together. ... The EAV continues to increase at a substantial rate.”
Faulkner took issue with the mayor’s request.
“Part of what happened last year is that a large amount of [Tax Increment Finance] money came back,” Faulkner said. “I think it’s perhaps missing something to say we’ve not been working with you.”
Faulkner stressed that the library is looking to do its part to reduce its burden on taxpayers.
“There are cuts being made,” Faulkner said. “It’s just we’re trying to make cuts that don’t affect services.”
Faulkner said the library has a goal to build up its budget reserves over the next 10 years rather than five.
But Barnes said he sees this as an opportunity for the city to save money that it doesn’t need to spend. He said he believes increased development means more property revenue coming in to governing bodies without needing to raise taxpayer spending.
Barnes said the city’s had recent conversations with “some large companies” concerned about DeKalb’s tax rates moving forward.
“It’s going to make an impact on residential development in this area,” Barnes said. “Every single house that we build, every single building that we build increases the property taxes, the EAV that comes into our community.”