Cheers to showing up
There were a good two dozen people in attendance at Tuesday's annual meeting, present to listen to the highlights of the school district's budget, and to vote on the budget and tax levy for the coming year. Participation trophies for everyone!
Spoiler: we approved it. So, $21 million and change will come from property taxes to run our school district for the next year.
The tax *rate* will remain the same as it's been since 2013, but since property assessments have gone up for most of us, chances are good that your tax bill will be higher. The district will levy about 2.5% more this year than the prior year, in line with the recent past.
The district has intentionally not changed the tax rate even as property values have gone up and state aid has fluctuated (overall, rising over the last 5 years). The district is limited by state-imposed revenue limits in what it can tax and spend on instruction and programming, so instead, it has been paying down debt early. Every year as property values rose and the tax rate stayed the same, the district's total tax levy has grown. This year will be in line with that patter, according to the budget approved Tuesday night. Next year we will expect to see a drop in state aid because our enrollment isn't expected to grow as it had been steadily for a few years prior to the 2017-2018 school year.
What comes next year is the big question. The budget that was approved and the tax levy we voted on do not have anything to do with the referendum or facilities work that could come before voters next spring. The district hasn't firmed up a plan for that work, or formally asked for a referendum question to go to voters. (There's a meeting next week when members of the district's FACT group should hear more details about the plans and the financing).
The district is considering two steps that could drive up taxes in order to fund major facilities improvements and fixes: first, ask voters to allow the district to regularly exceed the revenue limit in order to increase spending on facilities management and repairs on a regular basis. Second, to borrow several million dollars (the amount is to be determined by the size of the projects) to fund some major projects that will include making bathrooms and other areas accessible for people of all abilities. You can read a detailed presentation on these options on the FACT webpage, here.
Much more to come on the facilities and referendum plans. What we approved Tuesday night is simply to educate our kids for one more year, to help pay down debt already incurred in past years, and to do things like run the Village Recreation Department and feed kids while they're at school.
I think it's worth noting -- because most people don't realize it -- that 17% of the taxes we pay next year will go to pay down debt. In a moment of candor, district Business Manager Patrick Miller conceded that 17% is a big chunk of our tax levy. "I'm not going to kid you, it is high," but also emphasized that the district is legally able to borrow much more (not much comfort for me -- legally, I could buy a million-dollar house, but whether it's advisable is another question)
I'm thrilled to have seen so many people attend the meeting -- the other times I've been at the annual meeting and budget hearings or information sessions, attendance has been lighter, sometimes much lighter. Hooray for you if you were able to attend, and if you were not, know that you can take a look at the budget online, and ask budget questions anytime. You may still not like the idea of your tax bill going up, but at least you'll understand what's behind it.