Electricity and gas taxes are going up in Oak Lawn and that left one trustee grumbling.
The Oak Lawn Board of Trustees Tuesday approved two ordinances that will raise the municipal utility tax on electricity and natural gas bills in the village—a move most trustees agreed was the best option available to generate funds needed for infrastructure improvements.
Together, the taxes are expected to generate $2.5 million per year, which Finance Director Brian Hanigan said would be put into a capital reserve account only used for streets, sidewalks, sewer pipes and other infrastructure improvements.
Village Manager Larry Deetjen told the board that the utility tax rate for electricity will be going up from .118 cents to .537 cents per kilowatt hour. The gas tax will be hiked from roughly 1.03 percent to 5 percent of the total bill, depending on the number of therms used.
Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), the only one of the six trustees to vote against both increases, called the electricity tax hike “exorbitant.”
“This is the equivalent of a 10 percent increase in property tax, and unlike property tax, it is not tax-deductible,” said Streit.
He went on to describe the increases as “hidden taxes,” questioning why others were adamantly opposed to property tax increases but accepting of these increases.
Trustee Bud Stalker (5th) said that the increase will really only amount to an increase of about $1 to $4 on monthly bills for homeowners, depending on how much electricity they use. The increase would be less than that for residential properties when it comes to gas bills, which are typically less than electric bills. Depending on the size and type of home, residents would likely see annual combined increases of $25-$50 in their utility bills.
Stalker said the increase will have the greatest effect on large businesses, perhaps adding $1,000 per month to their bills.
“I don’t like overly taxing businesses, we need more businesses in Oak Lawn,” he added. “But large companies can afford to pay that.”
“As long as the money is going to be used for infrastructure, I can support this,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th).
Although Stalker was just elected in April, Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) said that, unlike Streit, he had become familiar with the tax plans prior to the election by attending the Public Works Committee meetings where they were discussed.
Streit questioned why the minutes of the recent Public Works Committee meetings have not been made publicly available.
“Is this really open government?” he asked,
“You were right about one thing, that we are opposed to property tax increases,” Olejniczak told Streit. “(Our goal) is to get the infrastructure done with the least amount of pain to the residents, and I think we did that. Unless you have a better solution?”
Streit maintained that more money was spent on infrastructure before Mayor Sandra Bury was elected two years ago. But Bury said money was borrowed to do that, and in recent years infrastructure funding was reduced in favor of paying more of the village’s police and fire pension obligations.
In other business, the board also approved a resolution authorizing K-Plus Engineering to do a study of the Stony Creek East Branch Drainage Basin, the first step in improving flood drainage in the village.
The cost of the study, according to the engineering firm’s proposal, is not to exceed $146,400.
“The only thing we can do (to improve drainage) is build more retention ponds and increase the flow rate of Stony Creek,” said Olejniczak, explaining that the village is working closely with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
Streit said, “I support any improvements we can make to our drainage system,” but then after some discussion, cast the lone vote against going ahead with the study.