A $375,000 property tax levy was the center of attention during a truth in taxation hearing and subsequent Edgar County board meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 22. The levy, which is not to exceed $0.20 per $100 of the valuation of properties in Edgar County, is supposed to cover the underwriting costs of an ambulance service for Special Service Area No. One.
Special Service Area No. One covers most of southern Edgar County, including Buck, Paris, Hunter, Stratton, Grandview, Symmes and Elbridge townships. Horizon Health currently holds a contract with the County to provide ambulance service to the area, but the contract will soon end and open the floor to other interested providers.
A similar levy was in place previously, but after Horizon Health earned the contract the last time it was opened up to bidders, they offered to cover the service area in question at $0 cost to the county. Horizon Health replaced the previous provider, Edgar County Special Service Area Ambulance Company (ECSSAA).
With the contract coming to a close, the Edgar County Board is preparing for Horizon Health, or other ambulance service providers, to renegotiate the current $0 deal with their bids for the next five-year contract.
The property tax levy, totaling $375,000, easily eclipsed the five percent tax increase threshold requiring a truth in taxation meeting.
One visitor at the hearing voiced his displeasure with the return of the tax, and asked Horizon Health representatives if they had received COVID-19 relief funding or if they paid property taxes.
After a brief exchange, Edgar County Board Chairman Jeff Voigt moved the conversation along.
“That’s not the purpose of this meeting,” said Voigt, later adding, “That’s between the assessor and the hospital.”
While the return of the $375,000 tax would be noticeable, there is no guarantee the levy will be in that amount, or that it will come to fruition at all. According to Voigt, the purpose of the levy is to ensure the county has the necessary funding to pay for the service, regardless of who places a bid. If bids come in at lower prices, a portion of the levy, or the entire levy, can be abated.
“After the assessor is finished with all the assessment process, and the county knows the assessed valuation of the district, the governing municipality can abate the taxes if they so choose,” explained Edgar County Clerk August Griffin.
Any revisions or abatements of the tax levy will likely happen in March 2024. For the time being, the board is reinstating the $375,000 levy to ensure they have enough to pay whichever service provider they choose. With no levy, there would be no way for the board to pay for the service.
“Obviously we don’t have any idea what it’s (cost) going to be,” said Voigt. “You cannot raise it… but you can lower it.”
In an interview with a Prairie Press reporter, Voigt explained that the entire levy can be abated if the county receives another $0 bid.
“If they come in at zero, we would abate the levy,” said Voigt.
The board voted to approve the levy, which passed a referendum vote in 2020. Bids for the new contract will be released after the specifications for the contract are ready. Voigt is hopeful specifications will be ready by the new year.
“We hope we have a draft specification out by the first of the year,” he explained. “The board could authorize the bidding at the January meeting, and possibly award in February or… the beginning of March.”