District 156 approves 8 percent higher levy

McHENRY – District 156 officials approved an 8 percent tax levy increase despite pleas from two exasperated property owners during Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

The levy increase passed on a 4-1 vote. Board member Steve Bellmore voted against it.

Before the vote, the board held a public hearing, which is required when the tax levy is an increase of 5 percent or more over the previous year.

District resident Bob Anderson asked the board to not raise the levy at all. “Somebody’s got to stop the escalating – asking for more and more from us,” he said.

Dave Miller, a resident who also owns a marina shop in town, echoed Anderson.

“I’m a small business owner and my costs escalate every year,” he said. “Yet, for the past eight to 10 years I haven’t increased my charges to my customers. A lot of my customers are local people and they’re struggling. I’ve cut so many corners. There’s no corner [left].”

School district officials said the district has been operating at a deficit, even with a levy increase last year and millions of dollars in cuts in recent years, Superintendent Gina Swinney said.

After approving the levy, the board unanimously adopted a resolution to place a question on the ballot in April that will ask to keep $2.2 million in savings the district anticipates from refinancing bonds.

The referendum is scheduled for April 9.

Citing low interest rates, the school board last month moved to refinance district’s bonds totaling $29 million.

If the referendum passes, $2.2 million that the high school district expects to save in interest essentially would become revenue and could be used to revamp technology, including broadening wireless Internet at the East and West campuses.

If the referendum fails, the money will go back to taxpayers as a reduction in their tax bills. For the owner of a $200,000 house, the reduction amounts to $14 a year, school officials have estimated.

The school board still has to vote on the wording of the referendum, which must be filed by Jan. 27 with the clerk’s offices in Lake and McHenry counties.

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