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updated: 11/12/2013 10:30 AM

Geneva school board seeks tax hike, but not as much as it could

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The Geneva school board has decided, for the second year in a row, to not ask for as much property taxes as it could get legally.

The board Monday approved a tentative levy for $1.4 million more than it received in property tax payments this spring. It could have set the levy $2 million higher. The tentative levy was set at $79.876 million.

It will finalize its levy request in December, and the taxes will be billed in the spring.

The measure passed 6-1, with only Mike McCormick voting against it.

He did not want to raise the levy at all, preferring the district deal with any difference between revenue and expenditures by either cutting expenses or dipping in to reserves.

"If not now, when? There is still a lot of pain in this community," McCormick said. "What the bloody heck is the reserve there for if not now? ... I think people would appreciate anything we could do."

The audience applauded the remarks.

Governments in 39 Illinois counties, including Kane, can only increase property tax levies by the lower of the rate of inflation, as determined by the consumer price index, or 5 percent. The index for the 2013 levy was set at 1.7 percent in December 2012. The Geneva board chose a 1 percent increase.

The tax cap does not apply, however, to new construction, which is why the actual request is higher than 1 percent.

Board president Mark Grosso said he thought using reserves for paying debt was better than using it to pay operating expenses. The district's debt payments are expected to climb until 2020.

The district estimates that on a property that was worth $315,000 last year and $315,000 this year, the property tax bill will increase $305. The levy calculations assume that the equalized assessed value of property in the district will continue to decline, at an expected average rate of 2.83 percent.

Board member Leslie Juby said she initially favored not increasing the operating tax levy at all but changed her mind after attending recent meetings on the potential increased cost of benefits for district employees due to the Affordable Care Act, and that of a state panel working on education funding reform. "These things that are out there are very, very scary to school districts," she said. Also factoring in to her decision was a reassurance that the district could carry over whatever money it doesn't spend to the next year for potential new programs, such as all-day kindergarten.

Resident Sandra Ellis, a member of the Geneva TaxFACTS watchdog group, was disappointed. She said she lives on fixed income, hasn't been able to sell her house, and is trying to figure out what to cut out of her expenses.

"I just feel you are missing our point of view," she said. "I hope you start looking to make some cuts or putting off spending some of this money until our debt reduction spike is over."

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