Fittest loser
Article updated: 12/17/2013 11:45 PM

Batavia school board OKs levying all the tax possible, despite residents' protests

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Batavia school district taxpayers hoping for a big break on next year's bills will have to make do with a much smaller decrease, as the school board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask for 13 percent more in property taxes to operate the schools.

The increase is the board's way of making sure it can capture every property tax dollar newly available to the district from the Chicago Premium Outlets mall and some industrial properties in Aurora. The mall and the other properties off Kirk Road were in a tax-increment financing district that expired in 2012. The sites are being booked on the tax rolls as "new construction" for the 2013 levy, and are expected to put an additional $6 million in the district's accounts, under the levy adopted.

The district will ask for $62.6 million for operating funds, and $10.44 million to repay debt.

Sylvia Keppel, founder of Lowerthelevy.com, said after the meeting the results did not surprise her, given the discussion six of seven board members had at a finance committee meeting earlier in the day.

She will now contact people who had emailed the website, to see if they are interested in forming something like the Geneva TaxFACTS organization, which keeps a critical eye on the neighboring Geneva school district.

And "we will try to recruit and replace (school board members)," Keppel said after the meeting. The next school board election is in spring 2015.

In an hourlong public hearing before the vote, at least 14 people asked the board not to ask for the full amount legally possible. Three people spoke in favor of doing so.

Former school board member Trevor Steinbach said the $400 average savings Keppel projected amounted to about $1.09 a day, the cost of a Diet Coke from McDonald's. Adding staff and possibly bringing back elementary-level foreign language instruction and full-day kindergarten would be worth it, he said.

"400! It's not quite the lottery," but it means a lot to some families, said Rose Gustafson, the designated spokesman for 34 families. "It could pay for a much needed repair on our 8-year-old van, for dental work ... or for an airplane ticket for our 7-year-old to visit her aunt in Idaho for the first time."

After the meeting, Steinbach criticized Keppel for saying that the majority of residents did not favor the levy increase.

"So that's why you put things to a referendum," she replied.

The referendum idea also was suggested by Batavia government-watcher Yvonne Dinwiddie. She suggested the board at least halve the percentage increase, and said that if, in the future, the district needed more money, to ask voters. If the district proved it needed it, she said, the "generous residents of Batavia" would support it.

The school district estimates that next year's property tax bills will go down about $28, on a home that was worth $230,000 last year, on the debt portion of the levy, because of the TIF expiration and because it expects the levy to go up just $2,807. The district does not control that levy; the county clerk sets it to cover what debt payments the district owes.

Board President Cathy Dremel said the board has made financial decisions, including postponing some building maintenance, for four years based on knowing that the money from the expiration of the TIF would be available in 2014. She also fears the state may still end up shifting the teacher pension burden onto local school districts.

"I strongly believe that offering a small decrease this year ... is the best long term strategy for this district."

And board member Jon Gaspar said, that while he had considered and sought input from many people, he ultimately trusted the district administration, which recommended the increase.

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