Last week the Lyons School District 103 school board voted 4 to 3 to approve a property tax levy of nearly $22 million, a whopping 17 percent increase over the tax levy from last year. But the district will almost assuredly not get all the money it is asking for because the levy is subject to the property tax cap law which limits increases to inflation plus the value of new property that comes on the tax rolls.
However because the 2014 levy was less than the 2013 levy the district will be able to use the 2013 levy as its base for determining the increase. In 2014 the district received $18,127,141 in property tax revenue but in 2013 the district received $19,321,141 in property tax revenue. This year it is asking for $21,742,100.
Interim superintendent Kyle Hastings said that last year the district didn’t ask for as much money as it could have thus costing the district about $1.5 million in lost revenue.
“We have never seen a district under levy and come up short $1.5 million,” Hastings said. “It’s mind boggling that any administrator or any Board of Education would make a mistake of losing $1.5 million.”
A spokesman for the Cook County Clerk said that District 103 did not receive the maximum allowed under the tax cap law in 2014 because several funds were reduced due to exceeding their statutory tax rate maximums.
The district is running a $2.3 million operating deficit this year and has about $11 million in reserves Hastings said.
For 2015 property taxes (which taxpayers pay in 2016) the property tax increase will be based on the larger 2013 tax extension under rules that allow a district to go back up to three years to determine its property tax base. By going back to the 2013 extension instead of the lower 2014 extension the district will be able to recapture nearly $1.2 million of the lost $1.5 million for its tax base.
But because of the tax cap law, that 2013 base can only be increased by 0.8 percent plus the value of new property that comes on to the tax rolls this year which means that the district is not likely to receive all the money that it is asking for.
The district is asking for $4,060,000 in its transportation fund which reflects a huge increase from last year’s $1,133,000. Administrators hope to transfer much of the excess in the transportation fund to the district’s education fund, which is the district’s largest fund and pays for teacher salaries. But the levy for the transportation fund is likely to be cut back drastically by the Cook County Clerk. School districts routinely ask for more money than they expect to receive because the value of the new property is not known until the summer. Once that number comes in the Cook County Clerk sets the tax rates so that no governing body collects more than is allowed by tax cap law.
Administrators seem to anticipate the transportation levy being cut because right after passing the levy the school board unanimously approved a resolution asking the Cook County Clerk to take all of any necessary reductions in the levy out of the transportation fund. Typically the county clerk would make reductions proportionally from all the district’s funds.
Administrators asked for the big increase in the transportation fund because that fund is not limited by statutory rate caps like other funds. However the aggregate levy is still subject to the tax cap laws so the transportation fund levy is likely to be significantly reduced.
The district is also levying $354,000 for life safety purposes this year after not levying for life safety last year.
The four new school board members elected last April with backing from Lyons Village President Christopher Getty voted in favor of the levy while the three holdover board members voted against the levy.
Board member Mark Camasta said that he voted against the levy because he had concerns about the legality of the levy based on information presented before the vote by Lyons resident Toni Parker. In the public comment period before the vote Parker, who was an unsuccessful candidate in the April school board election, threatened to sue the district by filing a tax rate objection to the levy for the transportation fund.
“I’ve already spoken to an attorney and I guarantee, it takes about five years for these to come to fruition, but you will be paying interest,” Parker said.
Hastings told the school board that the property tax levy was reviewed with a number of people and that he was confident that the levy was legal.