The Will County clerk's office has asked the state's attorney's office for an opinion concerning whether voter approval will be required for a new tax that will allow the Wilmington Island Park District to provide programming for individuals with special needs.
The Park District Code (Under Chapter 70 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes) authorizes the district to levy a property tax of up to 4 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation for special recreation purposes. The funds generated are used in two ways - providing adaptive recreational programming through membership in a special recreation association, and making improvements to local facilities to improve accessibility in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Park District Code says the special recreation tax is not subject to the rate limitation of the tax cap, so the district can increase its property tax levy without losing funds for other park purposes. Park officials maintain that the authority to levy the tax is absolute, and requires no voter approval through referendum.
However, the tax cap law is in contradiction. It says specifically, "If a new rate is authorized by statute to be imposed without referendum or is subject to a backdoor referendum ... the governing body of the affected taxing district before levying the new rate shall submit the new rate to direct referendum..."
In 2009, the Illinois Supreme Court supported the referendum requirement in another Will County case, Acme Markets v. county treasurer Karen Callanan. The justices ruled that even though state statutes specifically authorized the county to levy the tax (in this case the tax was for a detention facility) without obtaining voter approval, it was a new tax in the county and the tax cap law did require referendum approval.
The Illinois Department of Revenue legal counsel indicated that Acme Markets v. Karen Callanan hasn't been used to argue a tax challenge, so there's no way to tell if it will be considered a precedent setting decision.
"It's always appropriate to have a referendum," said Sue Hofer, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Revenue. "... [the tax cap legislation] is all about transparency and public decision making."
Following concerns raised by The Free Press Advocate about the conflict between the tax cap law, the Park District Code, and the Supreme Court ruling, the office of the Will County Clerk has asked for clarification from the state's attorney's office. The clerk's office is responsible for determining whether a taxing body's levy request will be honored and at what level.
For much more on this story, see this week's Free Press Advocate.