D97 board approves levy amid pushback

Officials say the levy actually would be lower overall

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

During a Dec. 19 regular meeting, the Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a 2017 property tax levy of $71.1 million that is 3 percent, or around $2 million, more than last year's levy. 

The vote was opposed by a group of residents, including a current and a former Oak Park trustee, who were concerned that the measure would lead to higher property tax bills. 

Dr. Alicia Evans, the district's soon-to-depart assistant superintendent of business and operations, said that the levy is only an estimate. The final amount could change based on a variety of factors, such as the taxable value of new property constructed in the village. Evans said that a 2.1 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index accounts for most of the levy increase.

In a related matter, the district still plans on using the unanticipated $2.6 million it received — on top of $13.3 million it took in as a result of two successful referenda voters approved earlier this year — to pay down debt. That's in addition to the district taking steps in July to abate referendum bonds that were issued to build the middle schools and upgrade the elementary schools. 

District officials said the two measures will lead to a reduction of the overall 2017 levy by around $3.3 million. In a statement released on Dec. 21, the district explained that "overarching result" of the measures "is that the percentage of those bills that is attributed to District 97 is expected to be lower than it was last year." 

The district also decided to postpone the sale of $10 million in capital bonds that it had planned for this month until next year while also reducing the total amount of bonds it plans to sell from $10 million to $7.5 million. 

The move, coupled with the July abatement, will result in the district paying approximately $5 million less in bond payments for 2017 than what officials had projected before the April referenda. Officials said that it would also generate savings in interest payments of between $100,000 and $200,000. 

But some residents weren't satisfied with the district's measures. During the Dec. 19 meeting, Dan Moroney, an Oak Park village trustee, said that, instead of servicing its debt with the extra $2.6 million in unanticipated revenue it collected, the district should apply the money to its operating levy. 

"This simple move is straightforward and will put the future operating levy at the level that voters approved in April," Moroney said, adding that, if the district doesn't act on his recommendation, the extra $2.6 million it captured would be included in future levies, resulting in $30 million in extra revenue over 10 years, assuming 3 percent inflation. 

District 97 board President Holly Spurlock said that the board would utilize a variety of tools at its disposal, such as vote on resolutions and enact levy reductions, that won't make the $2.6 million increase permanent. 

"We want to assure people that our decision regarding this year's levy does not represent a permanent increase," the district's statement explained. 

"Our goal from a financial standpoint has been and will continue to be finding ways to meet the needs of our more than 6,000 students, while also working with the administration, [our financial oversight and review committee], our fellow governing bodies and the community as a whole to reduce the tax burden here in Oak Park."

Greg Marsey, a former Oak Park village trustee, said that he strongly supports Moroney's recommendation before pointing out the struggles that many current residents experienced with paying property taxes. 

"I don't know if you fully appreciate just how at risk the diversity of this town has fully become," Marsey said. "If this continual uptick in taxes isn't stemmed soon, you'll only be as diverse as the people who can come here and afford the six-figure cost of entry." 

Marsey recommended that the district work with other taxing bodies through organizations such as the InterGovernmental (IGOV) Assembly on ways to stem the increase. 

"If you don't get serious about your participation in IGOV about this tax burden and about tackling this collectively then it is only going to continue and it's not going to be too long until Oak Park looks like every lily-white suburb on the North Shore," he said. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 1st, 2018 4:58 PM

Copy this article including Bridgett's comment to Neal, and save in a folder on your desk top marked: "D97 Promises." Open in 2019, when D97 demands another ransom. Read. Vote accordingly.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 1st, 2018 11:57 AM

Just say NO to all their future ransom (referenda) demands.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 1st, 2018 9:57 AM

"some residents" is a massive understatement

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: December 28th, 2017 1:27 PM

Neal, to answer your question, they (meaning D97) didn't say that about 2017. The reporter did, and it's wrong. The D97 statement used the term "next year." And "next year" is 2018 taxes, which aren't paid until 2019, with the 2nd installment, which shows the final tally due for the year (since the 1st installment is always 55% of the previous year's taxes) is not due until late summer of 2019. And by that time, almost two years from now, people will forget any promises D97 made this month.

Larry Skiver from Oakpark   

Posted: December 28th, 2017 11:31 AM

I remember the last referendum that do you D97 passed. They made a mistake on that tax assessment also. The multiplier that they use was a mistake which added a big burden to our taxes. What happened to that extra money. All I hear is a bunch of BS. I went to a meeting before they passed the new referendum and they stated that no new schools were built in 60 years, but was a lie. Two new middle school were built not too long ago. When asked , they clarified the statement but didn't make it public. More lies. When are the people of Oakpark going to wise up. I will get no raise this year no raise next year at my job How about the teachers at the schools get no raises that would help. Oak Park of course will give them raises Don't give me the bull about Oak Park District schools being top in the state they are not. If the school districts would live within their means maybe our taxes will go down but I doubt it.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: December 27th, 2017 5:34 PM

Bridgett Baron - I just tried to make it clearer. In rereading the article, I'm not certain how they can say the 2017 levy will be $3.3 mm less. They started at $69mm, which was $2.5 million more than they should have taken. Then they are increasing the levy by 3% arriving at $71mm. What am I missing?

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: December 27th, 2017 4:48 PM

Neal, the article does mention the major issue. However, the reporter and newspaper glossed over this over taxation, and its long-term effects. They quote nothing more than a press release from D97, as if to negate the very real truth that D97 is overtaxing us. D97 is levying more money than they need to, they are unnecessarily burdening the tax payers of Oak Park, and then justifying their decision with gobbledygook that is purposely designed to distract from what just happened. Does the reporter question anything written in D97's press release/statement? No. He and this newspaper take it at face value. Just like other inaccuracies that D97 published in order to get the last two referenda, resulting in a gihugic tax increase, passed. WJ ignored the facts back then, and they continue to ignore them. It confounds me why WJ is choosing this path.

Neal Buer from Oak Park3.   

Posted: December 27th, 2017 1:30 PM

I think your article misses the major point of contention: 1. D97 had a referendum that passed, allowing the 2016 tax extension levy to go to approximately $66.481mm. 2. Due to changes in assessment, and equalization factors, the final levy was $69.072mm. 3. Although more money was collected that anticipated, the new levy request uses $69 mm as the base to determine the new levy. 4. This will result in an additional $2.5mm in taxes next year and in all years to follow. 5. The D97 Board voted to tax us to the maximum amount allowed by law.

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