Dist. 207 Returning $1 Million To Taxpayers
Three years ago, the Maine Township High School district was in dire financial straits. Now it has a $3 million surplus, and the board voted Monday to OK a $1 million abatement of property taxes.
Taxpayers who live in Maine Township will be getting some relief on their property tax bills.
The Maine Township High School District 207 board voted Monday to abate $1 million in taxes, with one board member saying it represents a shift in thinking to become more cognizant of taxpayers. The move is possible because of a major improvement in the district's finances since the 2009-2010 school year, when it was facing a deficit of millions and laid off 137 employees.
"This represents a significant turnaround, and our administrators as well as my colleagues on the board deserve credit for working together to bring significant change to District 207 over the last few years," said Board Member Eric Leys.
The Finance Committee, consisting of board members Leys, Eldon Burk and Edward Mueller, worked with the district administration to devise the plan.
Board President Sean Sullivan stressed the tax abatement will still maintain quality education, while responding to the fact many taxpayers have been battered during the recession.
“District 207 is committed to providing quality education while exercising judicious stewardship of property tax dollars,” he said.
Both Sullivan and District Superintendent Ken Wallace praised Mueller for leading the cause of holding the line on taxes, while still delivering quality education in the district, during Mueller's service over the years.
A $3 million surplus
Mary Kalou, assistant superintendent for business, said the district ended the last fiscal year (on June 30, 2012) with a $3 million surplus.
"When we looked at the surplus, you could spend it, save it, earmark it or give it back," she said, adding the district decided to save $2 million of that money for capital projects, especially building repairs.
"The goal was win-win, district and taxpayer," she said.
Before the board voted, board member Margaret McGrath asked what impact the decision would have on future property tax revenue, and Kalou answered that it would not affect it.
"In order for it to have the same effect next year, we'd have to continue to abate $1 million," she said.
Future financial uncertainty
Superintendent Wallace noted that no one knows whether the state of Illinois will force school districts to fund the unfunded pensions that the state has failed to pay, and that creates some uncertainty going forward.
"We take a cautious approach in determining our annual levy because we do not know how the state’s contributions to ... 207 might change," Wallace said in a statement. "Nor do we know whether or to what extent pension costs might be shifted to us.
"Even so, we believe our financial management and cost-containment efforts have put us in a position that we can make this tax abatement without compromising the quality of our education.”
A 10-year plan to repair old buildings
A district statement released after the vote said 207 has realized savings recently by refinancing bonds, and in the last few years has seen substantial cost savings in areas such as its purchase of supplies and its energy consumption.
The district is embarking on a 10-year capital program to repair, maintain and upgrade its three schools--Maine East, Maine South and Maine West-- which range in age from 49 to 82 years.
"Each needs work that has in some cases been postponed due to financial considerations. In the first year of this program, the District obtained highly favorable bids by requesting bids early, at a time when contractors were looking to lock in their primary projects for the summer," the statement said.