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Area voters say yes to three referendums

By Vinde Wells

Ogle County voters were apparently in the mood to loosen their purse strings when they went to the polls Tuesday, saying yes to four referendums that will raise their property taxes.

Mt. Morris Fire Protection District residents said yes very willingly to two referendums that will help maintain services for both the ambulance and fire department.

Voters approved the ambulance referendum by a vote of 347 to 93 and the fire question 327 votes to 110.

Both referendums asked for a tax increase of 10 cents, from 30 to 40 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. 

“I’m thrilled to know the community is behind the emergency services provided by the district,” said fire district board president Scott Diehl. “I’m very pleased. It would have been a real concern otherwise.”

The increase means the real estate taxes on a $100,000 home will increase by approximately $67 per year, not factoring in exemptions.

Fire district officials asked for their first increase in 15 years due to a shrinking tax base and escalating expenses.

Diehl said the district’s EAV has already decreased by $10 million since 2012 and could take another hit next year when the value of the shuttered Quad Graphics plant is expected to go down drastically due to its recent sale.

In 2012 the district’s EAV was $59.8 million. It dipped to $47.1 million in 2015 and currently sits at $49.3 million.

The former printing plant is presently assessed at $906,471, which gives it a fair market value of $2.7 million. However, it was sold last May for $200,000. 

The fire department and its ambulance serve approximately 5,000 residents in portions of five townships — Mt. Morris, Pine Creek, Lincoln, Rockvale, and Oregon-Nashua — an area of 45 square miles.

The total budget for the district is $700,000 annually with ambulance fees bringing in approximately $260,000 per year.

Each referendum will generate $49,500, for a total of $99,000.

Oregon SRO approved

City of Oregon voters approved a referendum for a tax hike to help fund the cost of a full-time school resource officer.

The measure asking for six cents per $100 EAV passed by a vote of 195 to 147.

“We’re very pleased that the community supported us having a school resource officer and being able to help out with the school district on that,” said Oregon Mayor Ken Williams. 

The city and school district entered into an agreement last fall to create the position in the wake of an incident at Dixon High School last May when a student was taken into custody by an SRO after firing shots at a teacher during graduation practice in the gym.

Oregon Police Sergeant Randy Cropp assumed the SRO duties at Oregon High School on Jan. 3. 

According to the agreement, the school district will pay 70 percent of the cost, and the city will pick up the remaining 30 percent.

The referendum asks for a maximum increase of six cents to cover the city’s share.

Williams said the city will not levy at the maximum, however, because only two cents is needed to fund the SRO.

State statutes require the referendum question to be worded with the maximum allowable amount, he said.

Williams said the two-cent increase translates into $19 to 20 per year on a house valued at $100,000.

That will bring in an estimated $26,000 to $28,000 per year, he said, the amount needed for the city’s portion.

The tax increase will appear on property tax bills in 2020.

Elsewhere in the county, voters in the Flagg-Rochelle Community Park District approved a $14 million referendum to build and equip a community center by a margin of 1,221 to 1,095.