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D-304 eyes townships’ assessments to form levy request

GENEVA  – As Geneva School District 304 grapples with its next tax levy – which it must approve in December for the 2014-15 budget year – the Finance Advisory Committee heard from the district’s two townships assessors Monday.

Geneva Township Assessor Denise Lacure said the projection for the 2013 equalized assessed value is 4.47 percent less. 

She and Blackberry Township Assessor Uwe Rotter both explained that property assessments are based on three-year averages. 

Committee Chairman Bill Wilson said if the EAV would be equal to last year’s, “that would be the greatest news we’ve heard in the last three years.”

Wilson said school officials were trying to use a crystal ball to figure out the right amount to levy so the district has enough money to operate.

“We need to put a levy in place by the end of the year,” Wilson said.

Lacure said property values are stabilizing, but until property tax appeals were completed, she said she could not commit one way or another.

Rotter said township assessors use a state formula to reassess property every year, using the sales records of the prior three years.

When the economy tanked and property values went down, people expected their assessments to go down, too – but they didn’t because of the three-year averaging.

“People think the system was broken but everyone was assessed at the same time, using the same formula,” Rotter said. “Everyone got a fair shake.”

Rotter said the assessment is the value of homes based on how properties are selling while a levy is the amount of money a taxing body says it needs to operate.

The tax bill, he said, depends on how much money the tax district levies or asks for.

“In order to save money, you have to spend less money or have someone else pay for it,” Rotter said.

Blackberry Township has about 10 percent of its property as commercial or industrial and 90 percent is residential, so any change in a levy goes “directly to the pocketbook of every taxpayer,” Rotter said.

Echoing Rotter’s comments, resident Bob McQuillan said the district should cut spending – especially with the debt the district has from its building referendums. McQuillan is a co-founder of Geneva Tax Facts, a local tax watchdog group.

But Rotter cautioned that budget cutting affects the quality of the services provided.

McQuillan said the district has financial reserves – $57 million by the end of their fiscal year June 30 – and should use those to reduce the debt service. 

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