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A much bigger township tax bill in Sterling

Township spends on things that others don't

Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
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SVM SERIES: Under the Radar: Many townships, little scrutiny
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Matt Howze, Sterling Township supervisor

STERLING – Township government costs a lot more in Sterling than it does in Rock Falls and Dixon.

For a $100,000 house with a standard homestead exemption, a Sterling Township resident paid $101 in property taxes last year. By comparison, the tax bills were $46 in Rock Falls-based Coloma Township and $47 in Dixon Township.

For the road districts, Sterling Township also comes in higher – $69 to Dixon's $57 and Coloma's $36.

The difference in road taxes is apparently justified: Sterling Township has more roads to maintain – 43 miles to Dixon's 37 and Coloma's 13. Sterling Township's population is slightly larger than Dixon's.

But why the difference among the general township tax rates?

Sterling Township Supervisor Matt Howze had no answer.

According to the Illinois comptroller's website, Sterling Township spent $2.5 million in 2011, much more than Dixon Township's $1.6 million. Sterling Township's payroll of $661,379 more than doubled Dixon's.

In Illinois, townships have three required functions: maintaining roads, assessing the value of properties for tax purposes, and doling out assistance to the poor. However, they're allowed to expand their authority to other areas.

Most townships, including Dixon, essentially stick to their mandatory duties.

Sterling Township, on the other hand, gets involved in youth services and economic development.

Last fall, the township paid $190,000 for the former Abiding Word Church building at 312 E. Fourth St. The building is now used for Giving Power to Adolescents, or GPA, a club for ninth- to 12th-graders, which has between 35 and 50 members, Howze said.

It's a place for teens to learn about life skills such as negotiating, budgeting, entrepreneurship and responsibility, Howze said.

The club pays for the building's utilities, while the township is responsible for the maintenance, although it receives help from the community.

"We are very fortunate that we have skilled individuals who offer their time at no cost," Howze said.

And Sterling Township has expenses that taxpayers won't often see in other townships.

It sends out a glossy four-page newsletter every 3 months, which costs $10,500 a year. Most townships don't do that.

One of the township's bigger line items in 2012 was $50,000 for a tutoring program ($68,000 in 2011). The program, which Howze prefers to call "academic assistance," hires teachers and others to help students.

Also last year, the township gave $20,000 to the Greater Sterling Economic Development Corp., whose goal is to bring business to the area. Dixon Township makes no similar contribution to its local economic development group.

In the past fiscal year, the township spent $19,586 for travel in the township and road funds. That figures out to $979 per employee – three times more than the city of Sterling.

This year, the township has $7,000 budgeted for travel in the road fund and $11,000 in the township fund.

By comparison, Dixon Township, which is about the same size as Sterling Township, has $3,000 budgeted for travel this fiscal year.

COMPARING STERLING AND DIXON TOWNSHIPS:

Here's a look at 2011 data from Sterling and Dixon townships, which are about the same size:

Sterling Township

Population: 18,035

Payroll: $661,379

Employees: 15 full time, 15 part time

Total spending: $2.5 million

Dixon Township

Population: 17,993

Payroll: $304,126

Employees: 5 full time, 11 part time

Total spending: $1.6 million

Sources: Reports submitted to Illinois Comptroller's Office, U.S. Census

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