Finance committee revisits D200's 'phase-in' as cash boon

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

By TERRY DEAN

Staff Reporter

The controversial and lucrative "phase-in" of the 2002 District 200 tax referendum was on the agenda last week as the district's Finance Advisory Committee revisited the topic in an effort to understand the makings of the school's large cash reserves.

In 2002, Oak Park and River Forest voters approved a 65-cent increase to Oak Park and River Forest High School's Education Fund, from $2.30 to $2.95. At the meeting Sept. 9, Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar reviewed the "quirk" in state law at that time which allowed the school board to capture all of the tax dollars that were not acquired from a previously-approved referendum. That was the so-called "phase-in" adopted by the board in 2005. It had the effect of increasing property tax bills notably and allowed the school district to build a cash reserve which now tops $100 million. It was a decision that angers many property owners to this day, ElSaffar noted.

ElSaffar gave a broad presentation about how property taxes work in Oak Park and River Forest. The presentation included recent tax levies for school districts 200, 97 and 90.

ElSaffar noted that D90, the elementary school district in River Forest, phased-in money from its successful 2006 referendum over a four-year period. ElSaffar also discussed tax increment financing policy and history in the two villages.

But the fuzzy phase-in law and its District 200 history sparked some discussion among the committee, many of whom are well versed in finance, but not so much in the law which allowed "phase-ins."

Jeff Weisglass, the chair of the Finance Advisory Committee and the vice-president of the school board, noted that the committee's charge wasn't to re-litigate previous board's decisions but to learn what happened in the past to help guide its upcoming recommendation to the current board. The committee is examining OPRF's finances as it relates to its fund balance, which currently sits at just over $100 million.

The FAC is scheduled to make its recommendation about what to do with those reserves in December. The committee's next meeting is scheduled for Monday Oct. 7 at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville, in the board room. The public meetings are recorded and posted on OPRF's website (oprfhs.org) by the following day.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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