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Central Illinois county clerks seek better share of rental support program fee dollars

Peoria County Clerk Rachael Parker and Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman
file photos
Peoria County Clerk Rachael Parker; Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman

A fee for rental housing support that's collected on all documents registered with Illinois county recorders will double to $18 on July 1.

But since the Rental Housing Support Program Fee was first introduced in 2005, a majority of the proceeds have been directed to Chicago and Cook County. Now the Peoria and Tazewell County clerks are part of an effort to get those funds more fairly distributed.

“Those dollars are supposed to be utilized by the housing authorities or any other type of organizations that help with rental housing assistance. So that's kind of a way for the state to get these dollars to be disseminated out to folks that need it for housing assistance,” said Peoria County Clerk Rachael Parker, noting that 40% of the money has gone to Chicago and another 26% to Cook County.

“So that remaining 34% was supposed to be distributed throughout the rest of the state, which is not fair.”

Peoria County has collected more than $200,000 annually for the program from the current $9 fee; Parker said the amount was a little below $250,000 from July 2020-June 2021.

Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman said the current program fee generates about $19 million from the entire state each year, and that Tazewell County has contributed more than $3 million total since the fee was introduced.

He said county officials were opposed to the legislation that doubled the fee.

“What we discovered when this legislation came forward to double the fee to $18 is: we noticed Central Illinois not receiving any of those grants,” he said. “The big number that jumps out is that 70% of the grants were awarded directly to Cook County and the city of Chicago, (but) they're only contributing less than 36% of the revenue.

“Meanwhile, Central Illinois is contributing a ton and not receiving any of the grants. I think Peoria had a small contribution of $10,000 grant at one point, but they're not getting anything on a yearly basis - and that's compared to over $200,000 just from Peoria County going into this program each and every year. In Tazewell County, we're sitting at about $172,000 every year going into this program, and we haven't received a dime since 2005.”

In January, Parker and Ackerman joined other county recorders from around Central Illinois, along with housing authority administrators and state legislators, in a meeting about the recorder fee increase.

“The whole purpose of the meeting was to let them know that this fee was going up – which we would assume they would have heard – and then also to let them know that all this money is being collected, but it's almost like nobody really knows where it's going,” said Parker. “So that was kind of the big eye-opener given to them; some of them were surprised to know that some of the housing authorities could not access these funds.”

However, Ackerman and Parker are hopeful a change can bring about more equitable distribution of the program funds. Ackerman says they were able to get the creation of a task force to look at the allocation formula into the legislation that increased the fee.

“We're looking at that task force and asking our Central Illinois lawmakers to make sure Central Illinois voices are on that task force,” he said. “I do believe that there is a path for us to get a majority of the membership being from downstate Illinois, which would really benefit us then in being able to guarantee that that allocation method is fixed.”

Ackerman has recommended Parker be appointed to the task force. Parker says she would welcome that appointment.

“I'd be glad to be on it just because it'll be a learning experience, and then I can – the more you know, the better, so that you can help not only my area, but the whole Tri-County area to make sure that we're getting our fair share of those dollars that are collected,” said Parker.

Ackerman said he already has some ideas of how the funds could be spread out more equitably.

“One proposal I've put forward is dividing the state into various regions that collect $300,000 worth of revenue for the program, and then guaranteeing that a portion of that revenue then has to stay within that region,” said Ackerman.

“Also a second part of that is making sure that a portion that is collected by each county is kept by that county to be utilized. That's the way the Cook County system is set up currently. Why don't we all take a piece of that and utilize that as well? That would guarantee that a portion of this funding – the new funding – would really be retained in the county in which it was collected, so those taxpayers can immediately see how it's being utilized.”

Ackerman says with the fee doubling , it's time Central Illinois got back more of what it's contributing to the program.

“We don't mind making the contribution if we can see the benefit of it. But since 2005 Tazewell County hasn't received any grants,” he said. “That doesn't seem right, and we're not the only ones: McLean County, Champaign County, Sangamon County – none of us are receiving any of these (grants), and those are significant sized population areas.

“If Tazewell County's portion is going to Peoria County because that's where the need is, I can justify that. To not see any of it at all, something's not right with this. If we could have more of a regional approach, in that if I don't get it in my county because we don't have as much need as somebody else, at least let it be a neighboring county where we can show, ‘this is where that need is locally and that's where that investment is being made.’ Our citizens would understand that; it's not being able to see anything in Central Illinois that's disturbing.”

Parker said the distribution imbalance shows a change is necessary.

“That would be our hope, to just know that if we're putting money in then we should be getting money out. And if our money is going out, why is our money going up to Chicago when we have people let's just say in Tazewell County, or Woodford County or whatever our surrounding counties that are in need, but yet our dollars have to go up to Cook County. It doesn't make sense.”

Ackerman says he expects the task force members will be selected in the coming months.

“It's vital that we have seats on this task force that we got included into the legislation to guarantee that that allocation formula is fixed,” he said. “If we don't demand that with our local legislators, the formula will remain the way it is and we won't receive anything.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.