Sycamore residents likely to pay $100 more on 2023 property tax levy to fund more city first responders

Vote to approve smaller increase failed 2-4

Sycamore's First Ward Alderman, Josh Huseman; Second Ward Alderman Pete Paulsen; Second Ward Alderman, Chuck Stowe; Sycamore City Manager Michael Hall, Sycamore Attorney Keith Foster, and Sycamore's Mayor Steve Braser look on during the public comment period of the Sycamore City Council meeting on Dec. 19, 2022.

SYCAMORE – Sycamore city residents should expect to see an increase in the amount of property taxes they’ll owe to the city in 2023, after a recent Sycamore City Council vote meant to add first responders to the city’s payroll.

The Sycamore City Council voted to approve an increase of the city’s property tax rate from 0.625% in 2022 to 0.682% in 2023.

The city of Sycamore is expected to collect $600,00 in property taxes through the levy. The funds will be used to establish three new firefighter and two new police officer positions, each estimated to cost $120,000, according to city documents.

“Well I would have preferred the less expensive one but we need everything that’s in all the options,” 2nd Ward Alderman Chuck Stowe said.

The 0.057% tax increase was one of five options presented to the city council on in the Dec. 19 council meeting. No option before the council would have seen the 2022 tax rate of 0.62542% decrease or stay the same.

According to city documents, the approved tax levy will add an estimated $105.24 to a Sycamore resident’s tax bill. However, that total may in fact be higher because the number does not appear to reflect the year over year increased property value of the average Sycamore resident.

“I mean a the end of the day it is what the council approved and it’s what we’ll move forward with. I know a lot of thought had gone into making those different options,” said 4th Ward Alderman David Stouffer.

At a Dec. 19 council meeting, Stowe attempted to garner aldermanic support for a third option, which would have levied $480,000 and increased the tax rate from 0.62542% to 0.661165. That increase would have been enough to create one new police officer and three new firefighter positions, according to city documents.

Stowe’s motion to approve option three failed 2-4. 4th Ward Alderwoman Virginia Sherod and 1st Ward Alderman Alan Bauer were absent from the Dec. 19 meeting; 1st Ward Alderman Josh Huseman, 2nd Ward Alderman Pete Paulsen and 3rd Ward alderpersons Nancy Copple and Jeff Fischer voted against Stowe’s motion. Stouffer was the only one to vote with Stowe.

A screenshot of a city of Sycamore document showing the difference between the five options presented to city council in the Dec. 19, 2022 meeting.

Huseman said he believes the city is faced with needs created by a larger population.

“The growth of Sycamore is positive. We’ve had great population growth, it’s been very well managed, but there’s some thing’s that we haven’t done incrementally along the way,” Huseman said.

The tax levy vote comes amid months of conversation at the city level where Sycamore’s first responders have asked the council to support hiring more police and fire employees.

During an Oct. 17 presentation to the City Council, Sycamore Police Chief Steve Winters said he wants to add police officers to the department’s roster so that most shifts are staffed with five officers and a sergeant.

Minimum staffing for the Sycamore Police Department is three officers per 12-hour shift, which start or end at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. In 2021, 66.5% of shifts were staffed with just three officers on duty.

On an average day, 75% of the year, the Sycamore Fire Department has a total of six individuals working its two fire stations, Sycamore Fire Chief Peter Polarek said during a Sept. 19 City Council meeting. Sometimes seven or eight firefighters are on duty, but that’s normally in the winter.

Sycamore Mayor Steve Braser has previously said he’s not a fan of how thin the city’s public safety workers have become during Nov. 22′s City Council meeting.

Huseman said he agrees with the mayor that the city needs to prioritize personnel for public safety officials.

“We’ve had a gap in our staffing levels and so this just gives room to focus specifically on public safety – three firemen, two police officers and it’s a very manageable amount from a tax standpoint,” Huseman said. “I’m excited about it, I think that our department heads are excited about it and it’s probably something that we should have been talking about for some time, and so I’m looking forward to them being able to move forward now.”

Stouffer said he believes while the chosen tax levy wasn’t his first choice, it will allow the city to fund more employees.

“It wasn’t necessarily the option I was hoping that we would get but I think it was – at the end of the it’ll be a nice compromise and get the city on the right track to have the personnel and support that they need as we continue to grow,” Stouffer said.

Stowe said the city has a need for all the positions that could potentially be created from option one but cautioned against doing too much too quickly.

“We don’t need to do everything at once, I think we can slowly building to what we need and this is a, you know, good step forward towards that,” Stowe said.