Huntley school board members who criticized ‘reckless spending’ as candidates vote to raise taxes

The Huntley Community School District 158 board has voted to raise the school district’s property tax levy.

The district voted for an increase of 5%, the maximum hike allowable this year under Illinois’ tax cap and the same percentage increase the district approved last year.

The vote comes after members of a slate of challengers who went on to take over the school board — including Andy Bittman, who is now board president, and board member Michael Thompson — criticized last year’s District 158 property tax increase while campaigning.

Bittman said during a candidates forum last spring, according to previous reporting from the Northwest Herald, “we’ve got to clean up this reckless spending.”

In that same forum, Thompson also criticized the tax increase, saying many District 158 taxpayers live on fixed incomes.

“Our economy is in shambles, and families are having a difficult time making ends meet,” Thompson said then. “You can’t look at your district as an endless resource. It’s disrespectful.”

Laura Murray, who also ran with the slate of challengers and now is board vice president, did not participate in that forum. Her campaign website reads, “Especially in this economy, this endless cycle of overtaxing and overspending must be brought under control.”

At a board meeting earlier this month when the levy was approved unanimously, Murray acknowledged she had campaigned on a platform of reducing taxes.

“I’ll be honest, during my campaign, I wanted to lower taxes,” Murray said.

According to a district news release, a homeowner whose property is worth $200,000 will see an increase in annual property taxes they pay to District 158 of $99. That doesn’t factor in any increase in the home’s assessed value from the previous year, the district said. A taxpayer whose home is worth $200,000 would have seen an increase of $148 this year as a result of last year’s levy, according to previous reporting from the Northwest Herald.

Though the levy has increased, the board will be discussing a possible tax abatement in January to try to reduce the impact to District 158 taxpayers, according to the release.

“We are committed to our mission of providing a quality education for all students always and appreciate the support from our community,” Interim Superintendent Jessica Lombard said in the release. “We take our role as financial stewards seriously and will continue to look for ways to streamline and reduce our expenses to offset the cost to our taxpayers. It is our goal to maintain Huntley’s reputation as a destination school district and a desirable place to live, work and raise a family.”

Lombard is being considered to be the district’s permanent superintendent, and a survey seeking feedback for what stakeholders want in a superintendent was sent out in a district December newsletter.

Bittman said in the meeting the board is hoping to interview Lombard at the end of January, but the dates still need to be worked out.

At the same meeting, members also voted to ratify the HEA’s contract, which includes pay increases of at least 4% for the district’s teachers.

During the discussion surrounding the contract, some of the board members explained their rationale for supporting the levy increase despite campaigning against higher taxes.

Bittman recognized he has advocated for “a leaner budget,” but said the HEA contract “will require the levy vote we are taking tonight.”

He said in the meeting he also campaigned on “prioritizing teachers’ pay.”

Murray said she also wanted to support the district’s teachers, and mentioned the district’s salary gap while explaining why she supported taking the full levy increase.

“The repair that was needed to be competitive with surrounding districts just couldn’t be done without taking the full levy,” Murray said.

The total tax levy approved by the board is nearly $81 million.

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