Dist. 128 board adopts $84.5 million budget after residents complain
Residents seek additional reductions, question surplus
After spending weeks whittling planned expenses, the Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 board has approved an $84.5 million annual budget.
Income from property taxes, grants and other sources should total $85.2 million during the new fiscal year, which began July 1.
The budget cuts totaled about $1.5 million and were made in a variety of categories, including supplies, staffing and maintenance. The reductions won't affect programs or services, officials insisted.
The changes were made as part of the regular budget review process, officials said. But they also followed repeated complaints from a small group of residents who were upset about rising tax bills and have pressured officials to slash costs.
Those residents spoke out again Monday before the board approved the budget at Vernon Hills High School.
"Please remember you are the voice of the taxpayer," Libertyville resident Gerry Verbeten said. "I don't want to be taxed out of my house."
Verbeten has been particularly incensed by the district's savings surplus, which is estimated at $125 million.
"I want to know why? How did it come about?" he said. "It's the taxpayers' money."
Officials have explained to Verbeten and other concerned residents that the district keeps a hefty savings to pay for building improvements, emergencies and other purchases. It's a standard financial tactic for school districts and other local-government agencies.
But that hasn't satisfied Verbeten and his confederates.
Libertyville resident Frank Berardi on Monday accused the board of mismanaging the district's finances.
"We have a large surplus, and yet we've seen taxes go up," Berardi said.
Before the budget vote, school board President Pat Groody thanked the residents for their interest in the budget process and for sharing their opinions about the district's finances.
"We have tried to take your feedback seriously," Groody said.
Officials are considering reducing the amount of taxes collected in a procedure called an abatement. Officials haven't yet settled on an amount.
The board approved abatements in each of the last two fiscal years. Last year it cut $4 million in tax revenue, and the year before it reduced the collection by about $2 million.
The goal each year has been to help homeowners during the struggling economy, officials have said.
Verbeten also complained about a trio of proposed construction projects, including for a new pool at Libertyville High and a new gym at Vernon Hills High.
In response, Groody said those projects haven't been approved yet, nor is funding for them included in the budget.
The projects are in an "exploratory" phase, Groody said, and if they move forward, the process for each will be open to the public.