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updated: 12/6/2012 11:26 PM

District 158 levy stays flat for second year in a row

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Officials in Consolidated School District 158 think keeping the property tax levy flat is the "right thing to do" for taxpayers this year.

It's the second year in a row the district hasn't had to ask for more money, but not because costs haven't gone up.

The amount the district is asking for to cover its operating expenses is increasing, but the amount it is asking for to cover its debt payments is going down an equivalent amount. The final levy increase -- outside of extra taxes sought from new construction -- will be zero, according to Chief Financial Officer Mark Altmayer.

Altmayer told school board members Thursday night that the district can afford to keep the levy flat partly because of money from a $39 million state capital development award. The district got word of the award in 2002 but the state was a decade behind in its payment.

Superintendent John Burkey said the debt repayment taxpayers are funding now wouldn't have existed had the state money come through when it was originally awarded. That's why the administration recommended using $1.1 million of it to reduce the property tax levy, which amounts to about $61.7 million this year.

"With the funds in hand with the capital development award, I think it's the right thing to do," Altmayer said.

Last year, school board members also voted to keep the property tax levy flat, reducing the request in a similar way with general fund money.

Board member Tony Quagliano said the practice is not sustainable for the long term, but since the money is available now, it makes sense to help decrease the burden on taxpayers in a still-recovering economy.

By law, District 158 is allowed to increase its tax levy by 3 percent this year. By keeping its request flat, it is saving property owners hundreds of dollars. Quagliano pointed out that the owner of a $300,000 house is saving almost $400 -- a fact everyone in the room seemed to support.

"It's a powerful statement to be able to stay flat over two years," said board member Kevin Gentry. "Hopefully a good message is sent and understood broadly."

Homeowners may still see a higher tax rate on their bills this year, thanks to steadily declining property values. But the total amount the district is requesting from existing property owners is unchanged from 2010 levels.

The board will officially approve the levy at its Dec. 20 meeting.

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