District 2 approves property tax abatement

RICHMOND – In a marked contrast to a year ago, the School District 2 Board unanimously approved a property tax abatement in front of a nearly empty audience Tuesday evening.

Taxpayers won’t see all of the approved $500,000 abatement returned to them because the board also approved a 2.1 percent increase on its levy, a number based on the rate of inflation plus new development, Superintendent Dan Oest said.

The three members of the public who attended the meeting all spoke about the board’s discussion on how to address temperatures in classrooms, some of which hit 91 degrees.

Air conditioning was one of the improvements a crowd of parents requested last year when a $1.5 million abatement – a number based on how much the district expected its reserves to increase by – was considered and eventually approved.

Some of the other requests, including additional technology, exposure to the Spanish language and full-day kindergarten, were implemented this year.

Others like facility improvements are being investigated. The district completed a facilities audit a few months ago, and its building and grounds committee has been putting together a priority list.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Oest presented a list of options the district could pursue to address the heat issue, from window units to a full-blown central air conditioning system.

Several board members said they needed more information, in particular estimates on how much some of the options would cost and by how much they would bring the temperatures down.

The district needs to have something in place by next August to address the heat, even if it’s a temporary fix, board member Mindy Ross said, adding the board has been talking about this for three years and needs to do something about it.

This year’s abatement will represent a portion of the expected surplus if the district’s fiscal situation remains the same, Oest said.

Because of last year’s abatement, property owners will see the portion of their bill going to District 2 increase.

The total the district had in the bank at the end of fiscal 2012-13 was $12.7 million, an increase of about $2.3 million over the previous year, according to board documents.

The school board is working on adopting a maximum fund balance policy and is in talks with another district that is also in the process of adopting one, school board President Bert Irslinger said.

District 157, the high school district that covers the same geographic area, is also considering an abatement, which it will discuss and possibly vote on at its meeting Wednesday.

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