Sycamore residents could see property tax increase as city looks to add more cops, firefighters to payroll

City of Sycamore City Manager Michael Hall talks to the City Council through three options for the 2023 property tax rate levied by the city.

SYCAMORE – Sycamore residents could see an increase in their 2023 city property tax bill if the Sycamore City Council moves forward with plans to bring in more revenue to add more police officers and firefighters to the payroll.

The council considered three options for the 2023 tax levy Monday that city staff proposed be spent on public safety. All three options under council consideration would increase the tax rate, and the amount Sycamore homeowners would need to pay on the city’s portion of their property tax bills, due in 2023.

The council is leaning toward a plan that would add two more cops and three firefighters to the agencies, bringing in $720,000 in property tax revenue that would add about $117 extra to taxpayers’ bill over a 12-month period.

A final vote is expected Dec. 19.

Sycamore Mayor Steve Braser said he thinks the physical growth of the city, particularly to the north over the past ten years, has put added strain on the city’s public safety services. Last month, Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters proposed a five-year plan that would add to the department’s officers, address increased calls for service and remedy slowed response times.

“Obviously by the calls, we’re having more crime in the area, whether it’s from – it’s not from internally in Sycamore but and around the other areas,” Braser said. “So those are the things you have to consider.”

Under the proposed levy options, the city is considering an increase from its 2022 tax levy of 0.6%. The three options for the new levy – all at higher rates than last year’s – would generate between $480,000 and $1.18 million in property tax revenue for the city, according to documents.

The largest increase, a rate of 0.7%, would mean the city could collect $1.18 million in property tax revenue. Staff proposed the money would add three police officers, one full-time police administrator, three firefighters, two public works employees and one economic development professional, documents show.

Under that first option, a Sycamore homeowner who’s home was valued at $268,000 would pay about $16.50 more per month in property taxes to the city, or $198 more in a 12-month period.

Option two would increase the city’s levy to 0.69%, which city staff proposed would add two police officers, three firefighters and one public works laborer. According to city documents, that option would add an additional $9.75 to Sycamore homeowners’ tax bills per month, or $117 more in a year.

A third levy option would increase the city’s tax rate to 0.65%, with plans to use the tax revenue to add one new police officer and three firefighters to the payroll. Under that rate, Sycamore homeowners with properties valued at $260,000 would likely pay about $6.24 more per month, or $74.88 over a year.

“Is that the right? I don’t know, you could choose whatever number you want to in order to change what this average tax bill would be,” City Manager Michael Hall said.

Council’s discussion included concerns about Sycamore’s police and fire departments’ current staffing levels. The tax levy proposals stated an increase in property taxes for Sycamore residents would mean command restructures at the city’s fire department, increased officers per shift for police, and improved response times while decreasing dependence on mutual aid.

Since 2013 fire requests for emergency service has grown from about 2,000 per year to nearly 3,000 in 2022, documents show. Police calls have grown from just under 20,000 a year in 2013 to roughly 25,000 in 2022, documents state. Sycamore’s population grew from 17,519 in 2010 to 18,577 in 2020, per the U.S. Census.

Braser told the Sycamore City Council Monday he’s not a fan of how thin the city’s public safety workers have become.

“I don’t like that we have to depend on our neighbors for fire and police protection, or the county,” Braser said. “We know Sycamore better, and our officers and our firemen know Sycamore better than anybody else and they should be the ones that are making the calls.”

Mutual aid is a common practice for first responders throughout DeKalb County.

DeKalb County is part of Illinois’ Mutual Aid Box Alarm System. Called the Six strike team, it includes an ambulance from DeKalb and Sycamore fire departments, along with engines from Genoa-Kingston, Maple Park, Shabbona, Malta and Cortland. If crews get tied up at a big emergency event, neighboring agencies often respond to local calls on behalf of the home agency until crews can be spared.

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