By Terry Dean
District 97 has finally settled on a roughly $48 million operating tax rate hike, which will cost property owners about $38 for every $1,000 paid in property taxes, if voters approve the ballot proposal on April 5.
Along with convincing voters to approve the ballot initiative, the board of education also has another task — explaining why they made the last-minute switch to go with the rate hike instead of a bond sale as first proposed.
The board unanimously approved the limiting rate hike on Jan. 18 at a special meeting. That was the drop-dead deadline date for the board to finalize the ballot. Since last October, the board had discussed and settled on a working cash bond sale of $75 million, a larger hit to property owners. The board changed to the limiting rate increase after the state raised income and property taxes on Jan. 12, which ultimately means the district is more likely to receive timely state aid payments.
The board, last Tuesday night, rescinded the bond sale referendum and approved a limiting rate-increase resolution. All seven members supported the switch but expressed concern that the public was told to expect one type of referendum and will instead get another.
"The primary reason the board went about this was a change at the state level in increasing the state income tax, which removed a lot of the risk to the school district of the state not being timely on its bill payments," explained board President Peter Traczyk.
With that risk gone, Traczyk said, the board could pursue a smaller referendum, so they opted for a traditional limiting rate hike. The rate-hike option, he added, will likely result in the district seeking a smaller referendum in the future, which would not have been the case with a bond sale.
"This was, for us, as responsive as a board can be to events that change on the ground," Traczyk said.
The board technically had until 11:59 last Tuesday to settle on their referendum question, but it did not come to that. The vote occurred at 9:52 p.m. with an audience of a couple dozen in attendance. With a 7 p.m. start, the board spent about two and a half hours deliberating.
By 2018, the district will also benefit financially once the middle-school construction bonds are retired and the village's downtown TIF expires, Traczyk added. Even if the referendum passes in April, the district would see about $900,000 in reductions, added Supt. Albert Roberts.