Members of the Board of Education Monday night attempted to plan for the financial future of the district amid uncertainty created by legislation awaiting action in Springfield.
House Bill 3793 would amend the state’s Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) to prohibit school districts from increasing their tax levy if the total equalized assessed valuation (EAV) of property in the district (excluding new property) decreases from the previous year. District 86 business manager Jeff Eagan told board members that the EAV for the district is projected to decline five percent from last year.
Board member Dr. Richard Skoda expressed confidence the district would be okay if House Bill 3793 passes.
“If the state legislature passes that law that says you get zero [increase] … we’re not going to be decreasing any services," Skoda said. “Everybody’s going to come to school. There’s going to be football games. And we’re going to make a way to do it.”
Superintendant Dr. Nicholas Wahl, however, wasn't so sure.
“I don’t know that we can do that if we have a zero levy [increase],” Wahl said. “I don’t think we can [provide the same services].”
“If we can’t, there’s going to be other districts in much greater trouble,” Board President Dennis Brennan said. “I think Jack Franks is an idiot. He doesn’t understand what he’s doing.”
Franks (D-Woodstock) is the state representative who introduced House Bill 3793 in June. The bill has 16 other sponsors and has been through two readings in the House. School officials said final House action on the bill could come as early as Tuesday.
Eagan said the legislation could cost the district $1 million.
“Whether he’s an idiot or not," Skoda said, "the fact that this is going to get traction, if it does get traction, shows that there’s a general angst out there among the public."
“Right,” Brennan said. “He’s playing up to it. … It sounds good to his constituents. He’s got a tough race up there in Woodstock.”
Skoda said the average U.S. family income has decreased over the last decade.
“So how can these families pay more in utility bills, pay more in taxes, when less is coming in?” he asked.
“Tax caps have worked,” Brennan said.
As a graph presented to the board by Eagan illustrated, the tax rate for the average property taxpayer in the district decreased in recent years as EAV increased, but has started to inch up again due to declining property values.
Skoda said tax caps were put in place because school boards used to ask for double-digit levy percentage increases that he called irresponsible.
“No doubt about it,” Brennan said. “But it’s also irresponsible to say zero percent.”
The board developed a consensus to seek a 2.8 percent levy increase. Skoda objected and said the board should not simply try to grab as much money as it can.
“I find that reprehensible and objectionable, especially in this kind of economic environment,” he said. “You’re talking about people losing their homes. Therefore, we need to figure out what we really need.”
The board’s discussion Monday night was the first step in a three-step process. The next will be adoption of a tentative levy at the board’s Nov. 21 regular business meeting. The final levy will be adopted in December.