Six people spoke during a public hearing Thursday at the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board of education meeting regarding the board's intention to sell $16 million in school fire prevention and life safety bonds.
Vicki Wilson, of Palatine, said it sounded like the additional money wasn't needed, but the board was taking it because it is easy money.
"Fund balances are excessively high here in District 211. The fund balance to revenue ratio far exceeds the state recommendation of 25 to 30 percent," she said. "Given these balances there is enough money to complete the life safety projects without borrowing. Why not use the cash that's been stashed away from the 2005 referendum to pay for these projects?"
Other residents asked similar questions and said they thought the district was spending too much.
After hearing the comments, associate superintendent for business David Torres made a presentation on the 2012 proposed tax levy, which superintendent Nancy Robb said would hopefully answer some of the residents' questions. The presentation is available on the District's website, www.d211.org.
Torres explained that the district is planning to increase the tax levy by 3.5 percent, which is the maximum that is allowed, because without maxing out the levy the district could face problems down the line.
He said there is a need to preserve existing reserves and issue bonds because of the uncertainty of future state funding and the possibility that state legislation will require school districts to pick up significant teacher pension costs in the near future.
"While we could use reserves, we feel that it's prudent and necessary to look at the long-term picture," he said, adding that reserves and working cash will be used for various capital projects in the upcoming years.
Money from the bonds will be restricted to the use of approved, state-mandated life safety projects, which are separate from operations and maintenance projects. The bond payments will not increase the tax extension because they are being layered into the debt service structure as other debt expires.
In response to residents' concerns that the district isn't making cuts, Torres said about $4 million in budget reductions in categories ranging from technology to supplies have been maintained for the past two years and an extra $1 million in staffing efficiencies were put in place this year.
Board member Anna Klimkowicz said she felt the board was in an "awkward situation" with the levy.
"We heard the audience speak to us, and I hear what you're saying, but yet that compound effect of not levying at our maximum causes us a problem and we want to do the best we can for the school district and the students," she said.
She asked if there is any way the district can help the community with their tax bills, such as supporting legislation that would address the way some homeowners have to pay more taxes when the value of other properties, particularly commercial properties, is getting reduced.
Torres explained that the tax burden shifts to homeowners when commercial properties successfully appeal their property value. Businesses have two levels they can appeal at before bills go out, and can continue to fight in court even after the taxes have been paid. In some cases, refunds have to be issued by District 211 to businesses years after tax bills went out, which means the district doesn't receive all the money brought in by the levy each year.
"(The taxpayers) may be paying more to us individually, but we're not getting more," Torres said, adding that the district has aggressively intervened on commercial properties' appeals to argue that their assessments should not be cut.
Residents still didn't seem satisfied after the presentation.
"All I heard was (Torres) explain why they need more money without giving reasons why," Palatine resident Len Green said. "In the real world, when your revenues are in decline business leaders learn to cut their costs and they contain their costs according to their revenues."