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Blown deadline will cost Dixmoor $400,000
Village leaders say political tug of war delayed approval of tax levy

Thursday, August 09, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by Ryan Haggerty

It's a town where weary residents point to pothole-filled roads and vacant lots and say they'd like to see their tax dollars put to work improving their neighborhoods.

But Dixmoor, an impoverished village of fewer than 4,000 people, is out its entire annual property tax collection — more than $400,000 for the year — because the south suburb's leaders missed a deadline to pass the levy by more than four months.

Dixmoor's village president said the lost revenue could force the village to reduce basic services or impose furloughs on employees, leaving residents exasperated and upset.

"You see how our streets look," Dixmoor resident Laverne Cammon said on a recent afternoon, pointing toward the pothole-pocked road in front of her house. "I don't appreciate it at all. We're all losing out."

Cook County officials said they couldn't recall another municipality missing the annual deadline to pass a property tax levy.

Meanwhile, Dixmoor Village President Keevan Grimmett said the village won't be able to make up the money unless residents approve a tax increase through a referendum — a step Grimmett said is unlikely at best.

The blown deadline also means Dixmoor has to return more than $192,000 in property tax revenue it received from the county earlier this year, money it was given based on the assumption that the village would pass a property tax levy for this year.

The financial turmoil could be crippling for the village, where abandoned, dilapidated houses and long-shuttered businesses stand as monuments to decades of economic decline.

"We were looking at ... how we could trim the fat before this even came about," Grimmett said. "This is kind of like a dagger in the heart."

In fiscal 2010 — the last year for which Dixmoor filed a financial report with the state comptroller's office — the village levied just more than $462,000 in property taxes. That amount accounted for about 20 percent of the village's general fund, or about half its police expenses, according to the report.

The problem now confronting Dixmoor stems from the village's failure to meet a basic requirement of all taxing districts in Cook County: approving a levy and filing documents with the county clerk's office by the last Tuesday in December, asking the county to collect the tax on the district's behalf.

The paperwork was discussed in several public meetings in the months before the deadline, but village trustees didn't approve it until May because of a rift that pitted Grimmett and two trustees against the other four trustees, Grimmett and several trustees said.

Because Dixmoor missed the deadline, the county can't collect property taxes on Dixmoor's behalf this year. The county also will seek the return of the roughly $192,000 in property tax revenue paid to Dixmoor earlier this year, money the county could recover by taking deductions from future tax payments, officials said.

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas said the clerk's office instructed her department to give Dixmoor the money, so her office was required by law to pay it out.

Bill Vaselopulos, who is in charge of tax rate calculations for the clerk's office, said officials at the clerk's office assumed the village was simply late in sending the approved paperwork.

The clerk's office has only a few weeks after the December deadline to determine the year's first payments to tax districts, Vaselopulos said. Not wanting to withhold money it knew Dixmoor desperately needed, the clerk's office decided to authorize the distributions, he said.

"We don't want to err on the side of cutting the money off when the possibility exists that they will be entitled to the money this year," Vaselopulos said. "It's something where you have to make a reasonable estimate of how to proceed, and that's what we did."

Dixmoor was first told it had to pay the money back to the county last month, when the county sent routine statements about this year's tax payments to municipalities, according to the treasurer's office.

Now, Dixmoor's elected officials must decide where to make deep cuts to make up for the more than $400,000 in lost revenue, a painful task in one of the state's poorest areas. The revenue is typically used to pay for "just about everything," Grimmett said, from village employees' salaries to road maintenance.

Several village leaders said they haven't made final decisions about where to cut costs. They also disagree about who deserves the blame for the blown deadline.

Grimmett and two of the village's six trustees said the other four trustees refused to approve the tax paperwork in an effort to hurt the village president's image.

"There are some trustees, in my opinion, that don't want us to move forward for personal and political reasons," said Yvonne Davis, one of the two trustees supporting Grimmett. "That's my feeling on it because they knew up front that the levy had to be passed."

Some of the trustees who oppose Grimmett said they didn't approve the tax paperwork before the deadline because they didn't trust the financial information upon which it was based. Several also accused Grimmett of being unwilling to deal with their concerns.

"He has not been trying to work with this board since the new board has been elected," said Michael Smith, one of the trustees who sided against the mayor. "He has been against everything that we have tried to put on the table to better Dixmoor."

Several trustees said a financial adviser and the village attorney told them in public meetings that they would lose the tax revenue if they didn't pass the levy by the deadline. Still, at least a few of the trustees didn't seem to realize the consequences of missing the deadline, they said.

News of the botched deadline spread slowly at first through word of mouth, but tax bills mailed in late June were the first indication for many residents that something was wrong. The bills listed nothing but zeros on the line that shows how much residents owe the village, even though all the other tax districts on the bills were still owed money.

Some residents said they were disappointed, but not surprised, by the missed deadline and the political squabbling among Dixmoor's leaders.

"I've been here four years, and it's not really a shock," said Shnigqua Rolark, shaking her head as she leaned on the fence in front of her house.

Rolark's neighbor, Ronni Russell, said he has no doubt the village will miss the money.

"Have you walked around this neighborhood lately?" he asked. "Have you seen all the boarded-up houses? Four hundred thousand dollars could fix that."




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