District 205 to decide next week whether to ask voters for tax hike

 
 
Updated 8/9/2018 5:35 PM
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  • Daily Herald file photoSchool board members are expected to decide Tuesday if Elmhurst Unit District 205 will seek a property tax increase in November to pay for building projects, including a proposal to replace Lincoln Elementary School.

    Daily Herald file photoSchool board members are expected to decide Tuesday if Elmhurst Unit District 205 will seek a property tax increase in November to pay for building projects, including a proposal to replace Lincoln Elementary School.

Following months of discussion, Elmhurst Unit District 205 officials are poised to decide next week whether to seek a property tax increase to pay for tens of millions of dollars in building improvements.

School board members on Wednesday reviewed the results of a recent telephone survey and asked questions about a variety of topics, including the condition of district buildings. But the nearly three-hour meeting ended without board members saying if they support or oppose putting a referendum question on the November ballot.

That discussion will happen Tuesday.

"If we're going to do this in November, there needs to be a vote at the Aug. 14 meeting to place the question on the ballot," Superintendent David Moyer said.

DuPage Election Commission officials say local governing boards have until Aug. 20 to approve a resolution or ordinance to put a question on the ballot.

According to a preliminary draft, the ballot question would ask voters if District 205 should replace Lincoln and Field elementary schools and upgrade other buildings to, among other things, improve security, provide STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) spaces and add classrooms for all-day kindergarten.

Voters would be asked to give the district permission to borrow $168.5 million for the construction projects. If they approve the ballot measure, it would cost an additional $149 a year in property taxes for the owner of a $500,000 home.

This week, Moyer explained the pros and cons of seeking a ballot initiative in November -- and not pushing it back to another election cycle.

For example, he said, younger voters with children turn out more in general elections than off-year ones. That demographic is more inclined to support school referendums.

It's also not recommended to move the ballot question to April, when there's a school board election.

"If we try to put a referendum on the ballot in April, the whole school board election becomes about the referendum," Moyer said.

Meanwhile, a huge voter turnout is expected in November because of the gubernatorial race and what's happening around the country.

"There is a lot of thinking that November is a much better date," he said.

There's also the rising cost of construction. Delaying the ballot question could require the district to cut back aspects of the proposed building improvements or seek more money from taxpayers.

"Deferred maintenance also continues to increase the longer we tread water on this issue," Moyer said.

The recent survey of 300 district residents shows support for the referendum idea. After hearing how much it would cost taxpayers, 55 percent of the residents surveyed said district should consider the ballot measure. Forty percent said it shouldn't.

A November ballot question, officials say, would preserve the momentum of a community engagement effort that began nearly three years ago with the district's "Focus 205" process.

"There's a lot of investment that a lot of people across the community have made," he said. "To re-engage them and start this process kind of at the ground level -- and possibly with a new board of education -- would be very, very challenging to do."

Of course, there's not a lot of time between now and the election.

"It does condense the timeline for the information campaign that would be required," Moyer said.

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