How far will Lake Villa District 41 taxes fall? Voters to decide

  • Although owned by Lake Villa School District 41, Pleviak School is leased to Round Lake Area Unit District 116. Campus improvements are proposed as part of a $50 million package that'll be decided by District 41 voters on April 2.

    Although owned by Lake Villa School District 41, Pleviak School is leased to Round Lake Area Unit District 116. Campus improvements are proposed as part of a $50 million package that'll be decided by District 41 voters on April 2. Daily Herald File Photo, 2014

  • A $50 million proposal calls for building improvements at Palombi Middle School and the other Lake Villa District 41 campuses.

      A $50 million proposal calls for building improvements at Palombi Middle School and the other Lake Villa District 41 campuses. Lee Filas | Staff Photographer, 2016

 
 
Posted3/25/2019 5:30 AM

The property tax rate for Lake Villa Elementary District 41 is set to decrease on next year's bills -- but voters will determine by how much.

The rate is dropping because loans that funded construction of Thompson Elementary School in 1999 and Martin Elementary in 2002 are scheduled to be paid off this year. That should result in lower tax payments to the district starting in 2020.

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The size of those payments is unclear right now, however, because District 41 officials have proposed borrowing money again -- this time for various building improvements.

They've also proposed a separate tax-rate increase for maintenance projects.

Both proposals appear on ballots for the April 2 election. Early voting began last week.

If approved, the plans won't eliminate the district's tax reduction -- but the cut will be smaller.

District 41 leaders say the time is right for the public to invest in the schools because the improvements could be implemented while allowing taxes to decrease. Opponents say the plan is too costly and has other flaws.

The proposals

District 41 serves parts or all of Lake Villa, Round Lake Heights, Lindenhurst and Round Lake Beach, as well as nearby unincorporated areas. It operates Hooper, Martin and Thompson elementary schools and Palombi Middle School.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One of the ballot questions asks if the school board should borrow $34.2 million to boost security, renovate classrooms and undertake other projects.

The second question asks if the board should borrow an additional $790,000 annually to fund maintenance projects.

Together, the proposals would provide an additional $50 million in funding over 20 years, according to information at district41.org/referendum-2019/.

If the questions weren't on the ballot, property taxes for the owner of a $250,000 house would decrease about $813, because the old loans are going to be paid off.

That's what will happen if voters reject both questions.

Conversely, if voters approve the proposals, District 41's tax rate will decrease -- but not as much. The owner of a house valued at $250,000 would pay about $212 less in property taxes to the district in 2020.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The fact that tax rates will decrease even if voters approve the plans is a plus for district officials.

"Timing is exceedingly important," Superintendent Lynette Zimmer said. "This timing allows the community to invest in their schools and still receive an annual (tax) decrease."

Alli Chase, leader of a volunteer group promoting the plan, said the district is pursuing a "responsible path."

"Passing these referendums will help fix our schools while also giving our overburdened taxpayers much needed property tax relief," Chase said in a news release.

The opposition

The requests face organized opposition.

Among the more prominent critics is Lake County Board member and District 41 resident Dick Barr.

Barr accused district officials of "grossly" overestimating costs of repair projects to reach the $50 million figure. He's concerned officials will spend money on whatever projects they want "and we won't get a say on it."

Barr, of Round Lake Beach, also took issue with the plan to spend up to $4.4 million on improvements at Pleviak Elementary School, which is owned by District 41 but has been leased to Round Lake Area Unit District 116 since 2014.

District 41 officials say the proposed spending at Pleviak would depend on the lease being renewed in 2024. Barr says that possible spending outweighs the profit generated by the deal, which has averaged more than $146,000 annually.

District officials disagree with Barr's assessments, particularly his claim of cost estimates being too high.

An architect studied the buildings and updated the long-term facilities improvement plan, business manager Anna Kasprzyk said. Some costs are predicted to increase because they'll have to be done over time, she said.

As for Pleviak, district officials said only basic maintenance and safety needs have been proposed for that campus. A life-safety audit revealed needed repairs, such as a roof replacement and the replacement of cracked load-bearing walls in the gym, Zimmer said.

"Pleviak remains district property, and as such the district has an obligation to residents to make them aware of the maintenance costs," she said.

Whether that work is done depends on Pleviak remaining in use beyond 2024, Zimmer said. Getting voter permission to raise money now creates a financial "safety net," she said.

"Asking for the $4.4 million for Pleviak does not mean that it will be taken or spent," Zimmer said.

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