Saturday, November 21, 2015

Will Freeport Property Tax Payers Have $13 Tax Rate?

While Tutty will return to issues with the Housing Authority of the City of Freeport (HACF) in the near future, Tutty feels the need to touch on Freeport property taxes this morning.

It's hard to believe that within the last decade Freeport's property tax rate was less than $10 (ten) per one-hundred-dollars of assessed value,  Tutty expects that the 2015 tax levies for the units of local government with taxing authority over the citizens of Freeport will result in a tax rate of over $13 (thirteen) per one-hundred-dollars of assessed value (EAV).

Here is picture of  when the total tax rate went over $10 for the eight units of local government that comprise the vast majority of Freeport tax bills (not all real estate parcels within the City of Freeport are in Freeport Township or the Freeport Park District).  This reflects the 2007 and 2008 tax rates which were payable in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

And here is how the tax bill looked for the 2013 and 2014 tax years payable in 2014 and 2015 respectively.  The two most recent property tax bills.

There are several comparisons that readers can make on their own and draw their individual conclusions.  In the last two completed tax cycles the rate went up by more than half-dollar, from about $11.96 to just under $12.50.  Tutty expects that the total rate will climb by as much this year.

While Stephenson County is "tax-cap" county and subject to Property theTax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), which means most of the taxing bodies on the Freeport property tax bill can only raise their annual levy (the amount of money they ask county clerk to collect) by the rate of inflation or 5%, whichever is lower, for a long time now the rate of inflation has been far less than 5% so the levy growth has been set by the rate of inflation.

However, because of declining property values, even static levies can push up tax rates, if there is less value to spread the levy across something has to give.  Most taxing bodies have legal rate limits that they cannot exceed, an example would be the Freeport Public Library, if the library board asks for a larger levy than their tax rate will allow, the county clerk will adjust the levy down to keep it at a set rate.  The library's max rate is 40-cents, the additional comes from a few extras that state law allows to be included above and beyond this ceiling.  That is one reason the Park District and Highland Community College like to have current debt, there is generally never a rate limit for paying off outstanding debt, which makes it more likely for them to be able to get the levy they request.

Furthermore, HCC is one of two units of local government not bound by tax caps, the reason for that is that Ogle and Carroll Counties are not tax-cap counties, Stephenson and Jo Daviess Counties are but for a taxing body to be bound by PTELL, all of its taxable property must be in under PTELL.  If Ogle and Carroll Counties would approve PTELL, Highland would then be limited in what they could levy.  This year the HCC Board of Trustees is taking full advantage of their non-PTELL status to raise their levy significantly.  As a matter of fact, HCC officials have admitted that it will result in tax rate of more than 50-cents per hundred-dollars of EAV.  This, despite the promises that all of their borrowing and back door referendums would not increase the tax rate...and these are people that claim to have public education as their goal.

Along those same lines, the Forrestville Valley School District is headquartered in Ogle County, therefore not bound by PTELL, so even though German Valley residents live in a tax-cap county they do not have tax-cap protection with regards their school district, Forrestville Valley.

The City of Freeport, despite being wholly contained within Stephenson County is also not bound by PTELL.  The Property Tax Extension Limitation Law has no bearing on home rule units of local government.  If the City was not home rule, they would be bound by tax-caps as every other municipality in Stephenson County is, that is why Mayor Gitz can propose a property tax rate almost 50% larger than last year.

What would the City of Freeport do if they were not home rule?  How could Mayor Gitz ever govern?

Here is a link to some more information on PTELL for those interested, note that the first sentence says that, "The PTELL is designed to limit the increases in property tax extensions (total taxes billed) for none home rule taxing districts."

Regardless of laws, falling properties values and the like, there is a complete void of leadership when it comes to addressing Freeport's continually escalating property tax rate.  At $13 per one-hundred-dollars of assessed value, the effects are sure to be very matter how nice our parks are or how many classes HCC offers...thinking people will avoid setting up shop in Freeport.

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker tutty.baker@gmail.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Freeport Housing Authority, State Statutes, And Mayor Jim Gitz

Tutty has ruffled some feathers by simply asking questions of the Freeport Housing Authority. Tutty plans on continuing to ask questions of the FHA, as a matter of fact, readers can expect those questions to be much more pointed.

Thus far, there is still not documented, certifiable answers to Tutty's questions from the last post. The executive director of FHA, Larry Williams proffered a verbal explanation to a Rockford television station.  the Chairman of the Freeport Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, Tiffany Nieman offered a verbal rambling on Facebook which centered more on personal experience and FHA goals than clarifying Tutty's questions.  FHA employee Andra Taylor, Larry Williams right hand man, also justified the expenditure on Facebook, and again with no links to or pictures of pertinent documents. 

Tutty still wants verified answers to the original questions Tutty posed.  Tutty learned a long time ago that trusting a public official regarding public business and finances without asking for and receiving documentation is the peak of journalistic naivete.

Unfortunately, in today's world, most people that call themselves journalists seem to think the First Amendment was put in place to protect government from citizens when in reality it is in place to protect citizens from the government.

Want an example of the above?  If you go to WIFR, channel 23 in Rockford, Illinois with a complaint about a public official they won't even think about covering it unless you have  verifiable documentation, yet FHA executive director Larry Williams went to WIFR, channel 23 and he had an entire news story done for him.  Tutty will bet you dollars to donuts that WIFR did not ask Mr. Williams for one shred of evidence beyond his words.  How about it WIFR news director?

Anyway, On to today's issue.  Tiffany Nieman, the board chair of the Freeport Housing Authority Board of Commissioners does not live in Freeport, which makes it unlawful for her to serve on the FHA Board by the way Tutty reads the Illinois Statutes.

The Illinois Housing Authorities Act unambiguously states that, "Every commissioner shall be a resident of the area of operation of the Authority;"

If you would like you can read it yourself, here is a link to the full act:

Tutty is amazed at how much money FHA has paid out in legal fees yet, apparently, none of the attorneys have bothered to check for compliance with the Statutes.

And where is the appointing officer, Mayor Jim Gitz at in all of this?  Is he simply just appointing whomever he wants with no regard for Illinois Statutes?

Does the line Tutty put in bold actually mean anything or do you suppose the Illinois General Assembly just put that in there for decoration?

One thing became apparent to Tutty over the weekend.  The Freeport Housing Authority administration, its board of commissioners and its ranking employees sure don't like being questioned about their use of public funds.  Tutty only has a few words for them...get use to it because Tutty is not even warmed up yet.

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Questionable Financial Affairs of the Freeport Housing Authority

Recently Tutty was approached by some concerned citizens regarding what they felt were questionable spending practices of the Freeport Housing Authority and it's Chief Executive Officer, Larry Williams.

After an initial review of documents Tutty agrees that there are, at the least, some very important questions in dire need of a public explanation.

One of these questions (but certainly not the last) has to do with a nearly $16,000 check written to the "Black Chamber of Commerce of Lake County".

Here is a photo of the Freeport Housing Authority check history in pertinent part:

Some will say Tutty "blindsided" the Freeport Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and City Hall by posting this picture on Face Book before talking to the officials in question.  Fact is, if the commissioners don't have a good explanation right away on an outside the community expenditure of nearly $16,000, they are obviously doing a very poor job of oversight of public dollars and deserve to be blindsided.
Secondly, Tutty is sure Jim Gitz was made aware of questionable expenditures within the Freeport Housing Authority long before Tutty was.  Tutty expects that he was contacted as a last resort and because the Executive Director of the Freeport Housing Authority serves on the community viewpoint board of the Journal-Standard the chance of this story seeing the light of day in the local newspaper was probably pretty slim.
What's more, this is an issue that Freeporters obviously want answers on,  in the last 24-hours thirty-five people have shared the above picture on Facebook.  These shares have included many comments, most questioning what the Freeport Housing Authority got for the nearly $16,000 paid the Black Chamber of Commerce of Lake County.
But Tutty has no allegiance to any other than the enlightenment of the Freeport public and these most certainly were public dollars collected for specific purposes...or suppose to be collected for pre-determined purposes.
As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker, 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

First Ward Alderman Tom Klemm Has Some Issues...As Does Mayor Gitz

According to a news story in yesterday's Journal-Standard, First Ward Alderman Tom Klemm "chided" his colleagues on the City Council floor during their last meeting.  Apparently Tom Klemm is upset because some documents reviewed in a closed session of the Freeport City Council have seen the light of day.

Note to Tom Klemm, Illinois statutes never, Tutty will repeat, never require a meeting to be closed.  Illinois Statutes give reasons why a meeting can be closed, but the law never requires closure of a public meeting.  Furthermore, no one can be punished for discussing what went on in a closed is not a crime by any stretch of Mr. Klemm's imagination.

And if Mr. Klemm is so upset by things in a closed meeting being made public, where was he five-years ago when the Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Counselor determined that the Freeport City Council violated the Illinois Open Meeting's Act by improperly discussing public business behind closed doors?  Maybe Tom Klemm doesn't realize it, as he's never been known for his astuteness, but violating the Open Meeting's Act is criminal.  (Journal-Standard 12/10/2010)

Corporation Counsel Sarah Griffin essentially made the entire City Council criminals, yet Tom Klemm didn't seem interested enough to take a public stand on that issue.  Is Tom Klemm interested in representing the needs of his First Ward Constituents, or the wants of the Jim Gitz administration?

Tom Klemm is apparently worried all this "negative" press could hinder people's decision to relocate to Freeport.  In Tutty's opinion, an overall property tax rate of $12.50 per hundred-dollars-assessed-value does much more to prevent thinking people from moving here, yet Tom Klemm hasn't shown up at one Park District tax hearing or Highland Community College tax hearing to express his concern.

Is Tom Klemm really concerned about the future of Freeport or he more concerned about the well being of his friends in the Gitz administration?

And what about a mayor and city attorney that make "verbal" agreements with taxpayer dollars while never informing the Freeport City Council, the legislative body?  Is that conducive Tom Klemm, to encouraging people to move here?  Or the violation (the one that's been proven) of the Illinois Open Meeting's Act...does that not too hinder the arrival of new residents?

Tom Klemm should know exactly how many building permits  have been issued in Freeport the past five-years for new single family residences.  People have not and will not be flocking to Freeport any time soon and it has nothing to do with this latest show of incompetency from Mayor Jim Gitz and Corporation Counsel Sarah Griffin.

Tutty says latest because we all remember Mayor Jim Gitz and Corporation Counsel insisting the City of Freeport owned the old Carnegie library.  However, when the City tried to quiet the title to the property through the 15th Judicial Circuit Court and a none-lawyer showed up to contest the City's sworn claim it was determined that the City had to purchase the property.  This after 18-months and more than $40,000 in public expenditures for legal fees.  Corporation Counsel either understands rudimentary real estate law or she doesn't, the latter was publicly proven between 2008 and 2010, the court case number is 2008MR6.

Perhaps Tutty's next post should center on the time when Mayor Gitz and Corporation Counsel Sarah Griffin misled the Freeport City Council on a $10 million bond issue.  Telling the Freeport City Council that they were only being asked to approve an expenditure of $963k for an "ambulance, dump truck, and street sweeper" when in reality they were seeking approval to borrow $10 million.  Mayor Gitz and Corporation Counsel lied through their teeth to the Freeport City Council.

If Mayor Gitz wants to deny the above reality, Tutty can post the videos of the council proceedings on You Tube for the world to see, maybe that would spark his memory.

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Case of Public Fraud?

Tutty has been bombarded with requests to share Tutty's thoughts regarding the lead story of the Journal-Standard from Saturday just passed.  Here is a picture of the headlines.

First and foremost Tutty must praise the Journal-Standard for digging in to a complex story regarding the improper, if not criminal, expenditure of public money.  And to the members of the Freeport City Council that are putting their foot down over this type of secret behavior with respect to  the expenditure of public dollars.

Also, the City of Freeport's now former Finance Director, Cynthia Haggard made the story possible because of her integrity.  Mayor Jim Gitz finally hired a department head that he could not hold under his thumb.  If not for Cynthia Haggard, this entire ordeal would have been shoved under the rug by Mayor Gitz (an attorney) and the City of Freeport's Corporation Counsel.

Freeport taxpayers should collectively sign a thank you card for Ms. Haggard for finally exposing how the Gitz administrations have operated. 

Tutty assumes most regular readers of this blog have read the Journal-Standard story pictured above and if you haven't it may in your interest to do such.  (the grammarian in Tutty was especially impressed by the proper use of the word "whom" but Tutty digresses)

In a nutshell, Corporation Counsel Sarah Griffin has been receiving pay increases that she was not entitled to under City ordinances based upon a "verbal agreement" between herself and Mayor Gitz.  The overpayment is not chump change either, it is estimated to be around $300k.

Isn't that something, the only City of Freeport employee being paid based upon a "verbal agreement" just happens to be an attorney and the City's highest paid employee.  Tutty thought most attorneys knew that verbal agreements are not worth squat...kind of shows the type of legal competence we have at Freeport City Hall doesn't it?

Where is our new State's Attorney on all of this, half of his constituency resides in Freeport, does he not have an obligation to Freeporters to verify if the newspaper's account is anything more than hearsay?  From the documents made available and the Journal-Standard news story it sure doesn't take much to construe that this is, and has been, a fraudulent use of public dollars.  The Freeport legal community cannot and should not continue to turn its back on such apparent and blatant abuse of power by their brethren.

Ms. Griffin has hired local personal-injury lawyer Tim Mahoney.  In Tutty's opinion Tim Mahoney is in over his head and should tell Ms. Griffin has much.  In reality, she probably needs a real good criminal defense attorney, at the least she needs someone with a larger skill-set than ego.

Attorney Mahoney wanted to make an issue out of her pay records coming to the light of day...this made Tutty chuckle.  The only records of Ms. Griffin released were pay records, last I checked, she was a City employee.  If Tim Mahoney thinks her privacy was violated he should sue somebody if he has grounds.  No one revealed what color underwear Ms. Griffin wears, they only asked questions regarding her pay as an employee of the public whose ordinances she is charged with enforcing.

Once again Freeporters should be profusely thanking the Journal-Standard and former finance director Cynthia Haggard for bringing this to the light of day, also, the Freeport City Council for continuing to follow up on this issue.  Freeporters should also be asking our local prosecutor, the States Attorney, why Tutty and his neighbors don't seem to have any protection from what appears to be an obvious public fraud, perpetrated by attorneys?

Tutty is quite sure there will be more to come on this issue.  Tutty has known Jim Gitz and Sarah Griffin a long time and fears this could be just the tip of the iceberg.  How many other "verbal agreements" have they made with our money behind the Freeport City Council's back?

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker,

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Reader Questions, Tutty Attempts to Answer

An anonymous reader recently posted this comment on one of Tutty's previous articles.  Tutty will attempt to address but as the reader factually stated, Tutty is "just one person and to be fair one side of the story."  What follows is the observation/question and Tutty's sentence by sentence response.

Tutty, I am very appreciative of your vigilance. I check this site often to help me gain a better understanding of our local/regional current events. I agree with you that it is impossible to attend or even review the minutes of all of the board/council meetings. I know many of us are frustrated with this fact. I have realized for most it is both a consumption and a digestion issue. Or, said another way, there are places to go to get the information but what does it mean. I've spoken at length with several officials about this and they agree that its difficult to find a communication model that objectively conveys the information and is easy to access.
This is a long way to get to my question. What fourm do you suggest is the best way for an organization to get the message out. As you suggest the JS does not have the staff (too few), expertise (covering politics both agriculture does not allow for a SME to do a deep dive) or the impartiality. I know one of the place I turn is here but you are just one person and to be fair one side of the story.
Again thank you for the time you take.

Thank you very much for the kind compliment, Tutty's goal is to increase the public intellect, something tax supported "educational" institutions don't always seem very interested in doing.

Most new public debt still requires a published notice in a local newspaper.  Most of the time, this is the only place Tutty finds real news, the legal ads, on Sundays the Journal-Standard has been burying them at the end of the classifieds.  However, the City of Freeport is home rule and always, Tutty will repeat, always uses home rule authority to circumvent the Illinois Statutes which require public notice.  Here, you must follow the City's  agenda to know if they are borrowing money but even that will do little good as regardless of what city council is seated they often suspend the rules and vote on new debt issuances on first reading...and then claim that they've been "discussing" it forever but have no paper trail.  Most people give up on trying to know what is going on, it's really sad in Freeport, when Tutty writes about a small town issue (Eastland Schools)  this blog gets twice as many hits as when Tutty writes about a comparable Freeport issue.  Many Freeporters gave up years ago.

When local media does actually dig in and investigate something, they forget about it the next day.  For instance, when it was discovered that Freeport City Ordinances allow the corporation counsel to instigate and terminate law suits without City Council approval, the Journal-Standard wrote a lengthy editorial wanting this practice changed and rightly so;  think a mayor and corporation counsel couldn't abuse that one for political or other personal gain?  And the City Council and the public would never know...without following every new case filed in the 15th Judicial Circuit Court.

But alas, that editorial was more than five-years ago and was never followed with anything else, those that wrote the editorial are probably long gone from of course, the City Ordinances remain unchanged.

Tutty does rely upon individuals e-mailing Tutty or otherwise getting word to Tutty about things that are going on, Tutty is a one a ghost show and there is always at least two hours behind the 30-minutes it takes Tutty to type up a post.  Tutty always respects confidentiality and tries only to report that which has public benefit, which usually does not include the staples of corporate, commercial media, the three, S's, sex, sports and sellebrity and not necessarily in that order.  Much easier to sell merchandise to dumb-downed consumers than enlightened people.

Tutty believes there are still ways to "get the word out" but before Tutty has a word to get out Tutty must first learn something worth sharing.  Tutty has found that in all forums, audiences are more appreciative when Tutty talks about what Tutty knows and not what Tutty thinks...which generally requires some form of work.  Experience and accumulated knowledge does help plenty too, Tutty knows much more this century than last century.

Tutty would like to give a word of advice to those that strive to be journalists.  Don't ever believe what a government official tells you about a document (contract, statute, ordinance, etc) read it yourself and understand it yourself.  If you can't do that, don't write about it, you would only be giving the public official's view...which is exactly how we've gotten to the Freeport we have...what haven't public officials gotten that they've wanted in the past two or three decades?  Where is the public benefit?  A nearly $12.50 per-hundred-dollars of equalized assessed value tax rate?  If we ever do have any good new jobs come to Freeport those that get the jobs will use them to move out of town.  But hey we've got great parks.

American journalism schools seem to be teaching the "defer to the public official" form of reporting completely forgetting that the First Amendment is in place to protect citizens from the government not the government from citizens.  Maybe it's not the journalism schools, maybe it's just the platform of 21st century corporate, commercial media.  Either way it's a disservice to the public.

Not a very concise answer and perhaps more opinion that fact but Tutty needed a good ramble this morning.

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Eastland School District's Back Door Referendum

The local commercial media is obviously too caught up in providing the latest sports scores, press releases and social gossip to care much about news that citizens might actually be able to act upon.

Take for instance the plan of the Eastland School District #308 to use a backdoor referendum procedure to possibly issue up to $3.5 million in new debt.  Taxpayers in the school district can force a referendum on the debt if they can collect 327 signatures of district voters in the next 30 days.  Eastland School District #308 includes the Village of Shannon, the City of Lanark as well as Lake Carroll.

Of course, without reading about it here on the Stephenson Blumdoggle, Eastland taxpayers would likely not even know the school board was planning this action.  The legal ad in today's Journal-Standard did not even use the word "Eastland" only identifying the issuing/publishing party by the lowest possible legal standard...and these things are put together by attorneys which collect their checks from public dollars.

Here is the legal notice as it appeared in today's newspaper:

Another legal fact these notices fail to inform the affected public of, more than likely on purpose,  is that under Illinois Statute the party attempting a back door referendum, in this case, Eastland School District, must provide a copy of the petition to anyone that asks for one.  This is so the district can't later say the petition did not meet legal muster.  If you would like a copy of the petition you can contact the Eastland School District #308 at 815-493-6341 and ask for the superintendent's office, he'll know what you're talking about, if they can not provide you with a petition upon request, the 30-day time limit can be extended
Right now, there is still plenty of time to collect the signatures if a couple of people get started right away, the signatures have to be witnessed and the signature pages notarized but it would not require an extraordinary effort to succeed.

But before locals can take action they first must know that action is possible...this is the exact point where local media is completely failing Tutty's friends and neighbors.  A $3.5 million dollar issue and without Tutty it would have probably never made it beyond the legal ads...yet if Eastland School District put out a press release about a square dance in the gym it would be page-two "news".

Local commercial media...why can't Tutty and Tutty's friends and neighbors expect better?

And a bigger philosophical question begging to be addressed is that if local school districts don't want public input on major financial decisions why bother wasting any money on public education?  We'll just defer all of our long term thinking to short term elected officials...isn't this what's going on now?

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker,