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updated: 12/15/2011 6:51 PM

District 207 adopts property tax levy increase

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Maine Township High School District 207 taxpayers will see their property tax bills increase next year.

The District 207 school board earlier this month voted 5-2 to raise the district's overall property tax levy by 3.39 percent, which is expected to generate about $2.7 million more next year.

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Existing property owners, however, would see an increase of only 1.5 percent assessed on their properties because of the state tax cap, which limits increases to the Consumer Price Index.

"This levy we just did was based on the CPI from 2010, which is 1.5 percent," said Mary Kalou, District 207 assistant superintendent for business. On an average $6,000 property tax bill, the 1.5 percent tax levy increase would amount to $22.50, Kalou said.

The 3.39 percent levy increase is to capture all the potential tax revenue from growth. While the district levied to capture growth of $110 million in the equalized assessed valuation of new property, it is projecting roughly $65 million in new growth, with two-thirds coming from the 6-month-old Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

The total tax levy is roughly $106 million, of which the district anticipates collecting $105 million. Nearly $1.4 million would be used to make debt service payments on bonds, and the remainder would fund operating costs, Kalou said. Though two school board members supported asking for half as much of an increase in the levy, they were overruled by the majority.

"With the district coming off deficits and layoffs only two years ago, the board is not comfortable making a levy decision that might push us back in that direction," District 207 school board President Sean Sullivan said. "Since then, the combined efforts of many stakeholders have put us on more solid financial footing and we are working to sustain that position."

Kalou said with the district's expenses continuing to rise and a new teacher's contract on the horizon, raising the tax levy was necessary to avoid returning to a trend of deficit spending.

In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the district had a nearly $6 million deficit. That reversed to an almost $6 million surplus in the 2010-2011 school year because the district received more state money than it budgeted for.

The district's total budget for the 2011-2012 school year is about $126 million. Officials are projecting a nearly $1 million deficit.

"It is our goal to get that to zero," Kalou said.

One budget challenge for next year is teachers' contract negotiations, which begin in the spring.

Under the current five-year contract, teachers received a 3.5 percent base salary increase this year. Teachers entitled to step increases based on years of service got a 5.8 percent increase.

"We don't know what our teacher salaries are going to be for next year (2012-2013)," Kalou said. "We recognize these are very trying times. We've just gone through significant reductions, and we're trying to avoid additional reductions."

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