School District 304 Board of Education members Monday voted to postpone approving the tentative 2011-12 budget for a month so they can look for more ways to squeeze it.
“The extraordinary times we’ve looked to save money for the past several years are here,” said board member Bill Wilson. “We do have some contingencies in there (that can be cut.) I’d like to try to let taxpayers see their tax bills increase by single digits instead of double digits next year.”
Many residents voiced their concerns about the this year’s sharp rise in property taxes, most of which go to the School District. Among them was Geneva Township Assessor Denise Lacure, who warned that taxes will soar beginning next year, when the district must start paying off the building bonds voters approved in 2006. Those bonds funded construction of Williamsburg and Fabyan elementary schools, as well as the remodeling of Harrison Street Elementary School and major repairs at other district facilities.
“On average, debt service on those bonds will cost each household $143 extra in property taxes next year, $280 in 2013 and $450 in 2014. By the time we get to 2016, the average household will pay $1,000 more in property taxes for that debt service alone,” warned Lacure, who added that her figures are approximations that she calculated during the board meeting. “I suggest you spend all the extra money you can find on paying down the district’s debt, because these increases are unsustainable.”
Though Assistant Superintendent Donna Oberg argued last fall that the district must levy the maximum amount allowed by the state tax cap law in order to not compromise future years’ revenues, Lacure asserted that the district can no longer afford to do so.
“You do not have to (increase the) levy by 5 percent or the Consumer Price Index. That’s optional,” she said. “The township hasn’t increased its levy for at least three years. When you levy the maximum in November and your budget isn’t set until May, no amount of budget cutting will decrease the next year’s tax bills.”
Any money the board cuts from next school year’s expenditures can be saved and used to reduce the 2012 levy that taxpayers will be billed for in 2013, noted board President Tim Moran.
Several board members spoke in favor of cutting budget expenditures and even freezing spending in some funds at this year’s level.
“I won’t vote for any budget with an increase in revenue (the amount levied) aside from the bond and interest payments, which we’re stuck with,” said board member Matt Henry.
The board will discuss the budget at its June 13 and 27 meetings. On June 27, board members will decide whether to approve a tentative budget and schedule a public hearing for late July, or to spend more time changing it. The current version of the education and transportation fund budgets are posted on the district’s website, www.geneva304.org.