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updated: 12/19/2011 6:21 PM

Fox schools ask for but don't expect more taxes

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At a time when many municipalities and school districts are sparing taxpayers the sting of even bigger tax bills by keeping their annual levies about the same, some school districts say they need to ask for double-digit-percentage-point increases to capture every dollar they are entitled to or risk losing money for years to come.

Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300 approved a levy last week that's about 20 percent more than it collected from taxpayers last year.

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But don't fret: District 300 expects to see only a 1.5 percent increase tops. That's in line with the Consumer Price Index, which measures the average change in prices for consumer goods and services.

The suburban tax cap law limits the amount taxing bodies can increase tax collections every year by the CPI. They also are allowed to account for new properties that come onto the tax rolls that year.

Still, District 300 Finance Director Cheryl Crates said the overestimation is needed to ensure the district collects all taxes available.

The district requested about $194.8 million, but officials realistically anticipate about $142 million, a 1.4 percent increase over the 2010 tax extension.

"It's such a huge district, and there's still growth, it's impossible for me to guess the valuation of property," Crates said. "If we miss on the number, we will not only lose out this year, but every year after. Since we are already spending between $2,000 and $3,000 less per student than other districts around here, we need every penny we can get to educate them."

Meanwhile, some districts are in a financial position to keep the 2011 tax levy flat, such as Huntley Unit District 158. About $6 million in budget cuts, loan refinancing and unbudgeted revenue payments from the state for the 2010-2011 fiscal year enabled District 158 to end the year with a surplus.

The district will not receive an increase in tax dollars from the community, other than from new construction, Chief Financial Officer Mark Altmayer said in a memo to the board.

Board member Tony Quagliano, who leads the district's finance committee, said the district will ask for an increase from the rate of inflation and new construction but ultimately will use revenues and proceeds from a refinanced loan to abate approximately $2.4 million.

"That would normally be collected from taxpayers," Quagliano said. "But we have made cuts and have an operating surplus that's above our target. It made sense to utilize it now. Times are tough and we felt this was the right thing to do."

Other districts fall somewhere in between.

Elgin Area School District U-46, the state's second largest district, estimated a 2 percent increase in collections to be safe, said Dale Burnidge, the district's director of financial operations.

Last month, the district approved a $319.9 million tax levy.

"We don't know where the valuations are going," Burnidge said. "Just because of all of the unknowns we added 10 percent to that figure. Realistically, we are only expecting about 2 percent."

Property taxes account for about 60 percent of the district's budget, Burnidge said.

A pair of smaller districts are requesting about 5 percent more next year. Central Unit District 301 and the Cary Elementary District 26 approved levy increases of 4.96 percent and 4.97 percent, respectively.

"Due to the fact that only one of the three factors determining the final levy amount is known at the time of this request, prudence requires the district to prepare the levy request for more than is anticipated, so as not to limit the potential revenue," district Finance Director T. Ferrier said in a memo to the board.

Greg Rabenhorst, assistant superintendent in District 301, said officials anticipate collecting 2.8 percent over the previous year.

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