Despite four separate roll call votes, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education failed to approve a property tax levy Tuesday night.
The board was stymied because three board members supported the maximum tax levy increase recommended by the administration, while three others supported no levy increase at all.
School board President Mary Rose Mangia supported a compromise — levying an amount less than the maximum — but in the end, only board members Art Perry and Lisa Gaynor joined her in voting for that.
“There is an impasse,” Mangia said after the fourth and final attempt to approve a tax levy failed.
So the board will meet in a special session on Dec. 3 to try again. The board must approve a property tax levy by Dec. 16 to collect any property taxes next year.
Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis and Director of Finance and Operations Zack Zayed recommended that the board approve a levy of $24,472,091 or a 4.9-percent increase over the previous year. However, Illinois tax cap laws would reduce the increase to 1.7 percent plus the value of any new property added to the district’s tax rolls this year.
The total increase in the levy with this motion would be about $396,300, Zayed said, in a presentation to the board at a tax levy hearing before the vote. That would amount to an increase in District 96’s portion of the tax bill next year of about $65 for each residential property owner in the district.
But the motion for the maximum levy was voted down 4 to 3, with Mangia joining Randy Brockway, Rachel Marrello and Michael O’Brien in opposing it. David Kodama, Gaynor and Perry voted in favor of the maximum levy.
The next vote was on Mangia’s motion to increase the levy by 0.85 percent, or half of the maximum tax levy. Perry was the only board member who joined Mangia in voting in favor of her motion as it failed by a 5 to 2 vote.
“I’m voting yes because I would rather get some increase than nothing,” Perry said.
But Brockway, Marrello and O’Brien stood firm in not supporting any increase in the levy. Kodama and Gaynor voted no, because they supported the maximum levy increase and didn’t want to settle for half.
The third vote came on a motion for a flat levy — no increase in the levy at all.
That was voted down 4 to 3, with Mangia this time joining Gaynor, Kodama and Perry in opposing the motion. Brockway, Marrello and O’Brien voted in favor of the flat levy.
By this time, some board members were getting perturbed.
“What are you willing to accept?” O’Brien asked Kodama.
“Full CPI (1.7 percent),” Kodama replied.
“I think that’s an interesting tactic,” O’Brien said.
“We have a problem,” Kodama said.
After some further discussion, Mangia once again proposed her compromise, a 0.85 percent increase in the levy.
“I feel the middle ground enables us to give our taxpayers some relief,” Mangia said.
This time Gaynor, after some hesitation, voted yes, joining Perry and Mangia.
But the four others stood firm and the motion failed 4 to 3 vote with Brockway, Marrello and O’Brien holding out for a flat levy and Kodama refusing to support anything other than the maximum levy.
“If we do nothing I’m OK with that,” O’Brien said. “I’ll sleep OK.”
In the debate and discussion Brockway and Marrello emphasized that the district needed to cut spending.
“We haven’t even started to get serious about cost-cutting,” Brockway said.
Marrello emphasized the district’s large cash reserve, which this year totals about 95 percent of annual operating expenditures.
“We have tons of money,” Marrello said. “Nobody’s going to starve, not this year, not next year, not for a long time to come. We are being overtaxed and it’s not right. In comparison to every other (local) government entity we’re doing well.”
Kodama emphasized that Zayed’s projections show the district’s financial condition deteriorating over the years, and that the district needed to maintain healthy reserves to be prepared for unexpected costs that might prop up.
Zayed stated that with a flat tax levy in 2013, the district estimated it would begin deficit spending in 2014. With the compromise solution, deficit spending would begin in 2015. With a full tax levy, deficit spending would begin in 2017.
However, it wouldn’t be until at least 2020 before the district saw its operating reserve fall below 30 percent of operating expenses, according to district projections, if the district chose any of the options for its 2013 tax levy.
The board agreed to meet again in two weeks to try to pass a levy.
Mangia said after the meeting that she hoped to receive more public input in the next two weeks to find out what the public wants the board to do.
Only one member of the public spoke at the levy hearing Tuesday night.
That was Chris Robling, who helped recruit Brockway, Marrello and Mangia to run for the school board this year.
Robing urged board members who campaigned against the tax-to-the-max policy to live up to their campaign rhetoric.
“Staff has no right to come between the elected representatives of the D96 community and the voters who elected them,” Robling said.
Near the end of the meeting O’Brien, who has voted against every levy increase since he was elected to the board in 2011, signaled that he might be open to compromise at the next meeting.
“I’m certainly willing to listen to other people,” O’Brien said.