Harper College wants to keep tax increase in place to fund $180 million in upgrades

  • Harper College trustees this week voted to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to continue a 2000 tax increase to fund $180 million in improvements at the school's Palatine campus.

    Harper College trustees this week voted to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to continue a 2000 tax increase to fund $180 million in improvements at the school's Palatine campus. Daily Herald File Photo, 2017

  • Former Harper College Trustee Laurie Stone is campaign chair of HarperYES, a group looking to rally support for the college's November referendum. Last October, Stone spoke to officials from Arlington Heights, Prospect Heights, Mount Prospect and Des Plaines as part of the community engagement process that led to the college board placing the question on the ballot this week.

      Former Harper College Trustee Laurie Stone is campaign chair of HarperYES, a group looking to rally support for the college's November referendum. Last October, Stone spoke to officials from Arlington Heights, Prospect Heights, Mount Prospect and Des Plaines as part of the community engagement process that led to the college board placing the question on the ballot this week. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, 2017

 
 
Updated 8/17/2018 8:31 AM

Harper College will ask voters on the November ballot to continue a tax increase that's otherwise due to expire, to help fund $180 million in campus upgrades over the next decade.

Leaders of the Palatine-based community college are seeking voters' permission to borrow the money by issuing bonds for a mix of new construction, additions and building rehab projects.

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"This plan helps position the students of Harper College, and our community at large, for a strong future," Harper Board Chairman Greg Dowell wrote in a statement. "Importantly, this plan also reflects a careful stewardship of the community's tax dollars."

College officials have been discussing a potential referendum since at least spring 2017 when the school unveiled a $224.3 million update to its campus master plan. Officials later identified $180 million of those as "priority projects" to be covered with referendum dollars:

• A new $28.5 million, 43,000-square-foot building to house a regional economic development hub and the college's University Center, where students can complete bachelor's degrees in three years by way of Harper's partnerships with Northern Illinois University, DePaul University and Roosevelt University.

• Renovations totaling $88.7 million to older buildings on campus that house academic programs such as accounting, business and education, and expansion of classrooms for health careers and manufacturing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Infrastructure improvements worth $62.8 million, including roofs, electrical, plumbing and technology.

Harper officials say they would plan to fund the projects without raising taxes, but by keeping taxes at the same level as approved in a 2000 referendum. Existing capital bond issues are due to be paid off in 2020 -- at which time property taxes are scheduled to go down -- but taxes would stay the same if the ballot question is approved.

If the referendum fails, taxes would go down about $10 for the owner of a $125,000 house, $23 for a $250,000 house and $48 for a $500,000 house.

If approved, bonds could be sold as early as 2020, with construction starting in 2020 or 2021.

The college board's unanimous vote Wednesday to put the question on the ballot follows a two-year-long community engagement process in which officials from the 23 communities in Harper's district were invited to information sessions about a potential referendum, while other feedback was solicited through an online survey.

On Thursday, a pro-referendum group led by former Harper Trustee Laurie Stone called HarperYES filed a statement of organization with the Illinois State Board of Elections. The group also launched a website and sent an email blast to solicit community support.

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