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updated: 12/23/2011 6:02 AM

Oak Grove D68 residents get wish for higher taxes

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  • Officials at Oak Grove Elementary District 68 in Green Oaks reversed a decision to seek a lower amount of property tax than last year.

       Officials at Oak Grove Elementary District 68 in Green Oaks reversed a decision to seek a lower amount of property tax than last year.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 

The possibility of a modest tax break for property owners in Oak Grove Elementary District 68 for the moment has been removed following an about-face by the school board.

Facing a filing deadline for the 2011 property tax levy -- the amount of money the district estimates it will need to operate -- the board in an emergency meeting Wednesday reversed an earlier decision and opted to seek the full amount allowed.

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Ironically, the unusual chain of events appears to have been prompted by vocal taxpayers who said they would rather see their potential $200 savings remain invested in the single-school district.

Levying the maximum failed in November by a 4-3 vote, and the board instead chose to seek $500,000 less in property taxes than it did last year.

That amount, a little more than $13 million, already had been filed with Lake County. While it can be adjusted down after the deadline Tuesday, it can't be increased after that time.

Facing a public call for the maximum, the board decided to reconsider the levy amount.

But the possibility of lowering the levy in the future comes with the stipulation the district spends responsibly, said board President Jennifer Manski. That will involve review early in 2012 of district reserves, the 2012-13 budget and five-year projections.

"The people didn't just say, `Take my money, go ahead and spend it as you wish,'" Manski said.

Supporters of trimming the levy contended the move wasn't meant as a gesture to taxpayers, but a financially responsible action as the district had adequate resources to operate without adverse impacts.

Though the reduced levy could have amounted to a $200 per year savings for the owner of a $600,000 home, residents mounted a sustained campaign that included about 50 letters of similar sentiment asking for the full levy.

"This school is the center piece of the community and we should take every opportunity to protect the funding for it," Wayne and Kristin Brown said in a letter to the board. They have two kids at the K-8 school and a third in the wings.

The couple added that the single-school district in Green Oaks is the reason many choose to live there.

"I am not a fan of higher taxes and generally support any opportunity to lower them. However, in this case I am willing and eager to pay more to support and expand educational opportunities for the young people of our community," the letter continued.

The levy was reconsidered at the regular school board meeting Tuesday, but one member arrived too late to vote and the 3-3 tie meant it failed for a lack of majority. The emergency meeting was scheduled and the full levy passed 4-2, with board member Tony Pirih, who favored the reduction, absent.

As they had voted before, Manski and board members Paula Sterner and Judy Egan favored the full levy. The tide turned when board member Gordon Boulger changed his vote and joined them. He declined Thursday to discuss his reasoning.

Board vice president Lane Hasler, who with board secretary Kim Opsahl voted against the full levy, called for a finance study panel to make a recommendation before an abatement is considered.

"They didn't have a demonstrated purpose for it," he said. "It gives us 60 days to go back and look at our analysis again and make sure we got it right."

In a recommendation before the first vote in November, Superintendent Janice Matthews said it would be a "grave mistake" to purposely reduce revenue.

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