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Our View: Residents’ voices vital in school tax levy process

Published: Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Some residents assembled at a recent Kaneland School District 302 Board meeting applauded when board member Tony Valente strongly criticized fellow board members for what he said was a “tax to the limit” mentality. But it’s unfortunate that Valente’s continued comments throughout the night veered off topic, distracting from a vital conversation that affects so many in the community.

In Kaneland, the levy increase will be 4.58 percent. Julie-Ann Fuchs, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, has laid out the impact for taxpayers: a $425 increase in annual taxes for an owner of a $200,000 home, $638 for the owner of a $300,000 home, $850 for the owner of a $400,000 home and $1,063 for the owner of a $500,000 home. The levy increase was approved, with two board members – Valente and Pedro Rivas – voting against it.

The issue stretches much wider than Kaneland, as homeowners throughout the region are facing higher school taxes. In Geneva School District 304, there will be a 1 percent levy increase, where the owner of a $315,000 home will see taxes increased by $305. And in St. Charles School District 303, that impact will be 2.5 percent.

The Batavia School District 101 levy decision is set to be made next week, but some residents there already are protesting an increase.

Some residents who showed up at Kaneland’s recent meeting said the increase is too high, and it’s not as if it’s a one-time increase. In 2012, the amount levied boosted tax bills $469 for those who owned a $200,000 home and $702 for those who owned a $300,000 home. In 2011, the increase was $337 on a $200,000 home.

That adds up, and residents are right to suggest that those numbers will just keep growing. School districts say that they must seek more tax money because of a declining equalized assessed value. At Kaneland, officials said if the amount asked in the tax levy were lower, services or positions might need to be cut. Rivas has said he wants to see details on what would need to be eliminated.

But Valente pointed out a specific expense he said the district could live without – saying the assignment of two individuals to serve as interim athletic directors for the remainder of the school year would be unnecessary. One is to make $250 a day, not to exceed 100 days, and the other is to make $500 a day, not to exceed 70 days.

While board members – including Rivas – approved the athletic director decision, school districts should consider hearing from residents on such matters. A school district’s residents should be allowed to weigh in on what the district can live without, much like a business suffering through a difficult time would work with those within its operation to make tough choices.

What are the options? Is there another way? What can be done to cut costs? These are questions school boards should be asking, and residents should be partners in the process.

Significantly raising taxes on an annual basis isn’t a good long-term solution.

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