Cuts needed for District 304 tax relief, group says
About 90 people got a primer Monday on local school financing from the Geneva TaxFACTS.
The group had a town-hall meeting to discuss Geneva school property taxes, and come up with ways to reduce or hold the line on property taxes.
TaxFACTS co-founder Bob McQuillan painted a grim picture, reviewing documents from the school district that discussed the amount of principal and interest the district owes, estimated at $305 million. He explained, in a portion he called "Bond Investing for Dummies -- and the dummies are me," why some debt is being repaid at 9 percent interest and can't be refinanced. He explained why property taxes collected to pay debt are not subject to the state's property tax-cap law, and therefore will continue to rise, from about $14 million this year to $25 million in 2020.
Monday night Geneva TaxFACTS wanted to get people talking about solutions.
McQuillan presented an idea labeled "5-5-5." It suggests cutting operational spending 5 percent each year for three years, then increasing it up to 2 percent each year thereafter.
It would result in a decrease for several years on his tax bill, he said; but by 2025 he would still pay about 17 percent more than he does now.
"We're not telling them what to cut, we're saying, 'This is all you have to spend,' " he said. The district could also look for ways to increase revenue, he added.
The largest part of the district's operating budget is the education fund budget -- something the district hasn't presented yet for the 2012-13 fiscal year, and isn't due until Sept. 30, although the fiscal year starts July 1. McQuillan called it "the elephant in the room, and no one wants to talk about it." The biggest expense in the education fund is salaries -- and the district is negotiating a new contract with its teachers union.
Bob Mann, a former St. Charles school trustee, said: "If you want a lower tax rate, you have to have a lower budget."
Mann, who served for 16 years, also said school boards tend to develop a "bunker mentality;" to change things, people have to call trustees and let them know what they want, he added.
"If you're really serious about cutting expenses in the district, you are going to have to cut staff," audience member Colin Campbell said.
Larry Callahan was blunt. "What we need to do is get rid of the dreamers and start putting some schemers in (in the 2013 election)," he said. Callahan said the district needs people who will look to save even the smallest bit of money, such as making parts for broken auditorium seats when parts aren't available, instead of replacing all of the seats.
District 304 School Board President Mark Grosso took notes, and said he felt it was important to listen to what people had to say.
Geneva TaxFACTS said it will post audience members' written comments on its website by the end of the week. It also hopes to post a calculator so taxpayers can estimate their school taxes through 2024.