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D-156 cites deficit, seeks 8 percent higher levy

McHENRY – Unlike some other area taxing bodies, the District 156 school board decided to increase its levy at its meeting Tuesday evening.

The board went with an 8 percent increase to ensure the district receives the maximum it can under the tax cap.

It’s called a “balloon levy,” finance director Dave Lawson said.

“It’s important that you over levy to make sure you get everything you’re supposed to get because if you don’t ... you’ll never make up that difference,” he said.

Before the housing market collapsed, districts typically went with very high estimates for their levies even though they knew they wouldn’t get all of it, Lawson said. But lately, because of “political pressure,” that trend has reversed.

Because the levy increase is over 5 percent, the school board must hold a public hearing on the levy. It will take place in December.

Some other taxing bodies decided, because of the sluggish economy and housing market, to keep their levies level or issued tax abatements.

But unlike those entities, District 156’s cash reserves are “minimal” and even with a levy increase last year, it operated with a deficit budget, Superintendent Gina Swinney.

“We’ve made a lot of cuts over the years, millions of dollars in cuts, but we are still running a deficit,” Board President Chad Mihevc said. “We can’t afford to do that [keep the levy level] right now.”

The district expects to run a deficit of about $400,000, maybe less because of some savings in insurance, Lawson said. It has about $14 million, or about 30 percent of its operating budget, in savings.

That’s in the 25 to 30 percent range recommended, he said.

Lawson had recommended a 10 percent increase to the levy but the board was uncomfortable with such a high number, especially because members will be going to the voters in April asking to keep $2.25 million the district will save from refinancing its bonds.

If the voters say no to the referendum, they’ll see the portion of their property taxes levied for the district’s bonds drop by $20 to $25, Lawson said.

If the voters say yes, the district plans to spend $1.9 million of the funds on technology, including installing wireless Internet in buildings and replacing computers in classrooms and computer labs, he said.

The remainder would be put aside for capital improvements such as replacing boilers, he added.


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