The New Lenox School District 122 Board of Education approved the 2012 tax levy estimate resolution Nov. 28, but not without discussion about the burden taxpayers in New Lenox face.
Approval of the estimated resolution—a total levy of $45,431,208—was achieved by a vote of 5-2. The two naysayers, Board of Education Vice President Sue Smith and Board Member Maureen Broderick, asked for more information about the financial consequences of holding the line on taxes. Last year both Smith and Broderick opposed the 2011 tax levy.
The current proposal is 4.03 percent or just over $1.75 million over last year's rate, according to business manager. This translates to a $45 increase for the average owner of a $230,000 home. The average homeowner in New Lenox is currently paying roughly $2,500 a year in taxes to keep the district's 12 schools operating.
Broderick asked administrators to prepare alternative proposals; ones that reflect a reduced tax burden on the community. She requested some financial scenarios be prepared in time for the board's workshop session on the district's financial operations on Dec. 6.
Smith said she was concerned about the burden on the taxpayer as well. She told administrators, "show me the pros and cons" of reducing the levy. Smith directed Supt. Michael Sass and Huang to try to find budgetary cuts.
At the meeting, she said, "I just basically think it unsustainable. I don't think increasing the tax levy every year is sustainable." Pointing to the economic strains that families have endured over the past four years, she said, "I don't think it's sustainable….my responsibility is to the taxpayer too."
Broderick later said she is hoping that fresh "brainstorming" might stir some creative ways to cut the budget and reduce the levy before the actual vote, which is scheduled for Dec. 19. On the heels of an Illinois Board of Education Convention, Broderick said she had attended a tax levy workshop in which some alternatives to raising the levy to the maximum were introduced. "I asked for the Power Point," she said, "and I gave it Harold (Huang).
Smith echoed the same sentiment, adding that "I'd just like to see if we froze the levy, what would it look like."
She later said she didn't want to disrupt the classroom or the programs, she was attempting to see if administrators could sharpen their pencils and find other ways to trim the overall costs of operations. She took the moment to add that she felt the existing pension system is too generous.
The problems that come from failure to levy to the fullest is complicated, said Sass. Noting that the school district is already carrying a $2.6 million deficit, if the district opts not to increase the levy, it loses out on additional revenues due to commercial growth as well. Without an increase, the district's deficit would rise to "$4.1 million."
The deficit increase along with the ongoing cuts in state funding makes an increase in the tax levy even more imperative, he said. If the levy were not increased, the district stands to lose $794,000 for 2012-2013 and another $1.588 million in 2013-2014, according to Sass. "We have the leanest district office than anyone you'll find."
In a later interview with Patch, Board President Nick DiSandro, who voted "yes" to the estimated levy, said, "No one up there is in favor of upping the taxes. But we've already got this large deficit, and we're left with very little choice.
These kinds of public discussion, said DiSandro, are ultimately healthy.
Huang noted that NLSD211 is not alone in this financially difficult situation. While each district has its own unique circumstances, the slicing the state makes in pay out to school districts is wreaking havoc on school district budgets statewide.
On Dec. 6, the NLSD Board of Education is scheduled for an intense financial workshop, the actual tax levy is expected to e adopted at the regular board meeting on Dec. 19.
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