Tax stewardship? Stewardship’s dead, baby, stewardship’s dead.
District 200’s board approved an eye-watering $102 million Project 2, contorting itself using pretzel logic specifically to bypass taxpayers by not going for a referendum.
Board President Tom Cofsky said, in effect, no new taxes needed. According to the Wednesday Journal article “D200 board opts for no referendum” [News, May 3], “After the meeting, Cofsky told Wednesday Journal that in the future it is likely that the district will have to levy the maximum amount allowed by law but he said that paying the debt incurred for Project 2 will force future school boards to be disciplined and careful in their spending.”
Which is it, no new taxes, or years of maximum annual increases forced solely by Project 2? Board indiscipline.
From that same Journal article: “Cofsky acknowledged there are risks in funding such an expensive project from operating revenues. He listed … inflation above the rate of 5 percent, the maximum amount the operating levy can be increased in one year under the tax cap law, a pension cost shift switching the responsibility for paying teacher pensions to local school districts from the state, a big increase in enrollment, a significant change in local economic conditions and the loss of budget discipline by future school boards. … We’ve got to really play our game out well and even then, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Cofsky himself makes the case against the irresponsible gambit he led the board to choose. “Everyday taxpayers don’t understand the workings of the finances.” Neither does most of the board.
The Community Finance Committee clearly understands. It includes two CPAs, one runs business operations for a Schaumburg school district (https://sd54.org/about/). As the largest elementary school district in Illinois, School District 54 connects more than 15,500 students with 2,000 staff members. Another has a PhD in economics, an M.A. in economics and an M.A. in public planning. Another is director of finance for a billion-dollar corporation. On two occasions, members of the CFC advised against what the funding option the board chose.
Poor stewardship abounds.
Meanwhile, the Park District of Oak Park just completed an $18 million Community Rec Center few clamored for on the assertion that a 2014 “community survey” of about 600 residents somehow justified it. No referendum (https://parksfoundationop.org/history/community-recreation-center-faq)
District 97, in 2017, $13.3 million referendum passed https://www.oakpark.com/2017/04/11/district-97-gets-referendum-relief). Additional unauthorized $2.6 million windfall taken (https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/oak-park/ct-oak-park-97-tax-abatement-tl-0727-20170720-story.html). Had opportunity to decline it, chose not to. Then at D97, new D200 board member Graham Brisben led the referendum/windfall effort: $15.9 million increase in one fell swoop.
D97, in 2019, took $5.7 million from expiring TIFS (https://www.oakpark.com/2019/11/19/most-oak-park-taxing-bodies-plan-to-capture-tif-funds). Rob Grossi, D97’s financial consultant, said the district’s 2019 tax levy would capture all of the available taxes from the expiring TIFs — about $5.7 million from the expiration of the two TIFs and new taxable property, about $4.1 million from the expiration of the downtown TIF and about $1.2 million from the expiration of the Madison TIF. The remainder, roughly $376,000 from new taxable property. For 2017-2019 alone, D97 received $21.6 million. Breathtaking.
The Library Board, 2019, levied a 9.98% levy increase plus expiring TIF money (https://www.oakpark.com/2020/07/29/expiring-tifs-and-other-questions-about-tax-bills, by Ali ElSaffar (see chart). Current D200 board member Mary Anne Mohanraj, was then on the library board.
Board behavior, “God gave us two hands, one for the taking, the other for the taking”.
Board attitude, “it’s mind over matter, we make up our mind, you don’t matter”.
Board accountability? None.
Taxpayers? Many grumble about taxes, few vote. Irresponsible spending enabled by disengaged residents. Terrible mix.
Relevant recent Oak Park stats. Median home assessment increase 28%. April 2023 voter turnout 16.11%