Election 2023: How should Woodstock handle property taxes, potential city fees?

Seven of the nine Woodstock City Council candidates participated in a forum last Wednesday

Woodstock City Council candidates participate in a forum on Wednesday night, March 23, 2023. From left to right, they are candidates Bryson Calvin, Darrin Flynn, Mark Indyke, Melissa McMahon, moderator Larry Lough, and candidates Joe Starzynski, Thomas West and Natalie Ziemba.

New fees, more business and budget cuts were some of the ideas Woodstock City Council candidates shared for how they would like to see the city’s finances handled.

Seven of Woodstock’s nine City Council candidates participated in a forum on March 22, hosted by the Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry. They are vying for three spots on the Woodstock City Council in the April 4 election.

The forum covered a variety of topics, including development priorities, taxes, and how to balance the needs of businesses and residents.

Those in attendance included incumbent Darrin Flynn, as well as challengers Bryson Calvin, Mark Indyke, Melissa McMahon, Joe Starzynski, Thomas West and Natalie Ziemba.

Candidates Melissa Barker and Crystal Squires were not in attendance, with Barker having travel plans and Squires sick.

This past year, the Woodstock City Council approved a property tax levy that captured ever it’s allowed to under state law, the second time it’s done so in more than a decade. Tax levy increases are limited to the rate of inflation plus new growth, but government bodies can opt against taking the increases.

Candidates traded ideas on how best to spread the tax burden out and take pressure off the city’s reliance on property taxes.

[Business] is the only way to get the taxes off of rooftops.

—  Woodstock City Council candidate Joe Starzynski on how to reduce property taxes

One of Calvin’s ideas was to have businesses pay fees, such as licensing fees, “to make sure they’re paying their fair share,” he said. He specified he’d like to make sure that is more focused on larger commercial businesses.

Ziemba, McMahon and Starzynski said drawing in businesses will help reduce property taxes on residents by spreading the burden.

“[Business] is the only way to get the taxes off of rooftops,” Starzynski said.

Bringing a marijuana dispensary into town would be a boon for tax revenue, Flynn and McMahon said. Both also pitched the idea of certain fees, with McMahon saying annual car permits could be an idea.

Flynn also proposed offering services in exchange for city permits, such as tree brush pick-up as part of a vehicle registration sticker.

Others, such as Indyke and West said they think the city is spending on things it doesn’t need, with Indyke pointing specifically to consulting fees.

West said the city should eliminate unnecessary city jobs and avoid “nickel and diming” residents with fees that other candidates proposed. Ziemba also said she was not in favor of additional fees.

I on City Council cannot possibly lower the tax burden so much from the city that it’s going to make this monumental [difference].”

—  Woodstock City Council candidate Natalie Ziemba

Ziemba and Flynn also said the city’s portion of a property tax bill is slim compared to other governing bodies, such as school districts.

“I on City Council cannot possibly lower the tax burden so much from the city that it’s going to make this monumental [difference],” Ziemba said.

The city’s bag tax was something that came up too. Residents pay 10 cents per for each single-use plastic bag they use. The fee was reinstated in August 2021.

West, Flynn, Starzynski, McMahon, Indyke and Ziemba all said they did not have an issue with the fee.

Calvin said he was not a big proponent of the bag fee, but did not elaborate. He said when it was passed, he would have preferred it to expire at some point.

Flynn noted since implementing it, the city has saved money in other ways, such as not having to replace grinder pumps in the city’s stormwater system.

Starzynski, McMahon, West and Ziemba all said they liked the environmental impact, but Ziemba also said it generates money.

Indyke said he thinks the city needs to be more public about where the money from the bag fee is going.