District 70, 128 taxpayers see relief
Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Saks organizes some papers at Coepland Manor School. Elementary School District 70 is abating more than $700,000 in next year’s bond payments. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 11, 2013 1:58AM
LIBERTYVILLE — Taxpayers are saving at least $3.4 million in bond payments over two years, thanks to the actions of two local school districts, and that savings could be pushed to more than $5 million soon.
Elementary School District 70 is abating more than $700,000 in next year’s bond payments. That comes on the heels of the district abating an identical $700,000 in this year’s bond payments and Community High School District 128 abating $2 million in bond payments this year as well. Plus, District 128 officials likely will abate at least some of next year’s bond payments.
Members of the District 70 Board of Education unanimously approved abating taxes for four different bonds the district has issued. This is the second consecutive year the district has dipped into cash reserves to cover bond payments.
“The decision was due to the economy,” said Kurt Valentin, District 70 assistant superintendent of finance and operations. “We wanted to help out our taxpayers.”
Although the district’s bond levies will be abated $730,000 for 2012, residents will not be seeing the amount of taxes they pay to the school district decrease from last year. Because the bond levies were also abated last year, if the district did not follow through with the bond abatement again this year, property taxes for those bond funds would have doubled.
School Board President Maryann Ovassapian said it was important to keep abating the bond levy because of the uncertain economy.
“I am very happy we are able to rebate taxes again to help residents,” Ovassapian said.
The district will be seeking 4.25 to 4.50 percent more dollars than last year’s levy to capture all the new construction in the district boundaries.
With the consumer price index already set at 3 percent, and tax caps in place limiting taxing bodies to a 5 percent levy increase or an increase equal to CPI, whichever is less, residents will be financing a levy 3 percent higher than last year. However, if the district did not ask for more than the CPI, it would not be able to capture revenue growth from any new construction in the district.
Of the district’s requested $27.6 million levy, $21.9 goes to the education fund.
District 128, covering Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools, is in the discussion phase of possible bond abatement for this year, according to Yasmine Dada, assistant superintendent for business.
The abatement in 2011, for taxes payable in 2012, was also due to concerns for residents, Dada said. The district has until February to notify Lake County on its intention for the bond levy.
“We were concerned about the (bond levy’s) impact on our taxpayers with the state of the economy,” Dada said. “One way to do something practical to improve their financial condition was to abate the taxes.”
The bonds the district abated, and is considering abating again, were issued in 1997 as part of the approved referendum to build a second district high school, Vernon Hills. At that time, it was anticipated that the district would pay the bonds off in 20 years.
Dada said the school system’s cash reserves are healthy and the district may be able to reduce the bond levy by $2 million or more again this year. She said depending on what criteria is used, the district has between 50 and 100 percent of its annual operating budget in cash reserves.
“We are a healthy school district. … We can do a lot more than other school districts,” Dada said. “Taxpayers have approved the referendum for us, and we have been fiscally conservative.”
Dada said the state is not helping school districts ease the funding burden on taxpayers. She said the state has cut back so many funding sources that it gets more and more difficult for districts to meet their obligations.
“As everyone feels the impact of the downswing of the economy, it will not impact our instructional programs,” Dada said.
Residents tend to pay more attention when the school district’s portion of the tax bill goes up than when it goes down, she said.
“You can have two or three years of abatement and that gets forgotten when the tax bill goes up,” Dada said.