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updated: 2/6/2012 10:46 PM

Dist. 304 dips into reserves to pay debt

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Taxpayers in Geneva District 304 will still see their property taxes go up this spring -- but not as much as they could have.

The school board on Monday decided to use some of the district's reserves to make part of the annual payment on its outstanding debt.

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It transferred $3.2 million out of its education fund to do so and agreed to abate the same amount in the debt fund levy that will be collected this spring.

Donna Oberg, the district's assistant superintendent for business services, recommended the amount. That would leave the district with about two months' worth of operating expenses in the education fund reserves -- $15 million -- at the end of the fiscal year.

She also recommended that the district aim to do the same from now on. Oberg estimated that, in June, the district will have an excess of more than $600,000 in the fund that could be used to pay debt.

The district owes about $162 million that was used to build, enlarge and remodel schools in the late 1990s and early- to mid-2000s, and to buy technology. It will be paying on the debt through 2027. The amounts taxpayers are obligated to pay for the debt has started to increase, from $14.6 million now to $25 million in 2020.

"It's inevitable there is going to be an increase. But we are trying to do something to soften that increase," Oberg said.

Resident Gail Ryan, however, said it wasn't enough relief for taxpayers. The projected savings of $98 on the tax bill of a $288,000 house isn't a big impact, she told the board. Spending, she said, needs to be cut.

"You are going to have to let people go. You are going to have to downsize payroll," Ryan said.

Without the abatement, the tax bill on that house would increase $403, the district estimates.

Bob McQuillan, founder of Geneva TaxFACTS watch group, called for the board to set similar caps on its transportation and operations-and-maintenance funds, and use overages to pay debt. He has long criticized the district, saying it holds too much money in reserve.

"Someone from the administration has finally said the reserve funds are out of whack. Thank you, Mrs. Oberg," he said.

In October, the district's financial consultant said the district could afford to spend $11 million of its reserves for debt payment.

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