District 155 Board approves tentative property tax levy increase

Crystal Lake High School District 155 met Tuesday to discuss a tax levy increase that would boost revenue
Crystal Lake High School District 155 met Tuesday to discuss a tax levy increase that would boost revenue

CRYSTAL LAKE – Residents, real estate agents and a state representative crowded the Crystal Lake School District 155 boardroom to voice concerns over the proposed increase of the tax levy, which board members tentatively approved Tuesday.

The board met to consider its annual levy, which this year includes a requested 4.45 percent increase over the previous year. The $3.2 million hike could mean taxpayers will see a higher property tax bill. Although the district is asking for a $75.8 million levy, it expects to receive a $74.3 million extension, which is about a 2.4 percent increase, according to district documents.

The board approved the tentative levy including its increase and likely will make a final vote in November. Board members Adam Guss, Amy Blazier, Ron Ludwig, Nicole Pavoris, and Dave Secrest voted yes on the item, while Jason Blake and Rosemary Kurtz voted no.

Residents said they wouldn’t be able to stay in the county much longer because of tax costs.

“I am now retired and on a fixed income,” resident Jim Young said. “Property taxes are onerous on me. … If there is a raise, I think what you are asking me to do is move.”

A district resident with a $250,000 home would pay about $50 more toward the district’s portion of a property tax bill. The increased cash flow primarily would go toward the education fund and the operations and maintenance fund, according to district documents.

Resident Anna Wagner voiced the same concern as Young. Wagner’s husband is retired, and they moved to the area to be closer to their family. Wagner had planned to retire as well and said raised taxes will make that impossible.

“Please think about the elderly people who are trying to retire and stay in the state,” she said.

The district relies on taxpayer funding as its largest source of revenue, with 74 percent of its total revenue coming from the tax levy. State aid provides the district with between 10 percent and 12 percent of its revenue. A resident who owns a $250,000 house in 2016 paid about $2,357 to the district in taxes, according to the district.

District 155 held its levy flat in 2015 rather than taking advantage of its allowable 0.8 percent tax increase, which would have resulted in $789,411 in funding.

The district is tax-capped, which means officials are limited in how much they can increase annually. Property tax extensions are limited to 5 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is less. This year, the CPI – which is a measure of inflation – will increase 2.1 percent, according to district documents.

”Significant” levels of deferred maintenance to the tune of $50 million worth in work is one of the main reasons for the hike, according to district documents. The work is needed over the next 10 years. Officials also are concerned about financial sustainability if the district doesn’t take advantage of an allowed increase.

“Holding the tax levy flat further limits all future potential tax extensions,” Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Jeremy Davis wrote in the tax levy presentation. “District 155 already has reduced its tax extensions and tax rates each of the prior two fiscal years.”

State Rep. Allen Skillicorn addressed the board Tuesday as well and urged the board to reduce its levy, rather than consider an increase.

But some board members said they wanted to think in the long term when it comes to fiscal stability.

“I am torn on this one because I am thinking of the future,” board member Ron Ludwig said. “I understand we are all worried [about taxes] but we are also thinking big picture. We are thinking future. We want to get those roofs fixed while it’s sunny, not while it’s raining.”

Board president Adam Guss said he supported the increase.

“The reason I am is because … we are working actively on cost saving measures in the district,” Guss said. ‘We are talking about consolidation. … We are looking at these things.”

Property taxes were a hot topic during the spring elections, where nine candidates competed for four spots on the board. Many board members who won seats said at the time of the election that they are not necessarily in favor of tax increases but also needed to balance educational needs.

“It is time that we give back to our taxpayers by being fiscally responsible with our true district needs,” Ludwig said during the campaign. “As student numbers go down, so should the need for staffing and services. We should not have to ask for any more taxpayer dollars in this scenario.”

Board Vice President Jason Blake had similar sentiments in the spring.

“We need to use some common sense regarding this issue,” he said. “At this point, I do not advocate increasing property taxes. I believe cutting them will drastically decrease the quality of education, which, in the long run, will lead to lower property values.”

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