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updated: 12/13/2012 1:43 PM

Dist. 15 board settles on 3% levy increase

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Palatine Township Elementary District 15 has passed a 2012 property tax levy officials hope won't dig deeper into taxpayers' pockets.

The board, by a 4-2 vote, approved requesting $112.4 million to cover operating expenses, representing a 3 percent increase from last year that's consistent with the set consumer price index, or rate of inflation. Including debt service, the total levy is $117.5 million.

"A lot of the community is struggling with their tax bills and it's driving businesses out, driving homeowners out," said board President Tim Millar, adding that one-third of District 15 students now qualify for free- and reduced-priced lunches. "Three percent is a lot. Three percent is a compromise. Our taxes have just gotten out of control."

The increase is a compromise, Millar said, because some officials pushed for a 4 percent "balloon" hike to capture revenue from any new properties added to the tax roll.

Though new growth fell from about $21.1 million in 2008 to $6.3 million in 2011, Assistant Superintendent Mike Adamczyk estimates it will rise.

Board member Scott Herr, typically one of the most conservative voices on district spending, said he supported the 4 percent hike because he believes the state's budget and pension crisis will further hurt school funding. Any dollars left on the table now will permanently affect levies in the future, he said.

Herr also said District 15 needs money to hire new teachers to reduce class sizes, currently among the area's highest. Enrollment, which had been predicted to steadily drop, has crept up the past two school years.

Board member Manjula Sriram also dissented, saying she wanted no increase at all.

For a house valued at $200,000, Adamczyk estimates a 4 percent increase would raise the district's portion of a property owner's tax bill by $9.57 more than a 3 percent hike would.

Board member Rich Bokor said District 15 had been on its "own fiscal cliff the last two or three years," but that the teachers' new four-year contract and other budget cuts have put the district on more stable ground.

"We owe it to the people in this community to minimize taxes to the extent that we can survive," Bokor said.

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