Gurnee mayor endorses Warren District 121's proposed tax increase
Gurnee Mayor Tom Hood this week gave an enthusiastic endorsement to Warren Township High School District 121's proposed property tax hike.
Hood, who graduated from Warren Township High School in 1978, acknowledged that his taking a stance on the proposal that's going to referendum in June might seem to some people as crossing a line. But, he said, "when it's something this critical and that important to the village, from my perspective, we don't have a choice. I think it's the right thing to do."
The district is seeking voters' approval for a tax increase of 60 cents per $100 of taxable assessed value to generate about $13.25 million in additional revenue annually.
If the measure passes, the owner of a home valued at $250,000 would pay about $500 more per year in property taxes.
District leaders have pitched the tax hike as necessary to avoid significant programming cuts, including to student athletics.
Hood made his endorsement at the village board meeting Monday night before District 121 Superintendent John Ahlgrim gave an informational presentation on the referendum.
One of the slides Ahlgrim presented showed that among the 10 high school-only school districts in Lake County, District 121 is last in revenue per pupil at $16,633, well below the average in the county of $25,337.
Hood said the district has done an excellent job of educating students despite not having a whole lot of resources.
"At the end of the day, when you're the bottom in Lake County for the amount of money we spend per student and we are in the middle for their performance, I'd say it's time to applaud what they've done as opposed to pick apart what they haven't done in our opinions," Hood said.
If voters reject the tax hike, all athletics and activities programs, as well as 20 additional employee positions will be eliminated as early as the 2023-24 school year, officials say.
Additionally, students would have only a seven-period school day instead of the eight periods they have now, and many elective courses would be gone, including programs for music, art, world languages, and industrial technology, the district says.
After Hood's endorsement, village board members Kevin Woodside, Karen Thorstenson and Cheryl Ross said they also would vote for the tax hike.
"I will tell everyone I know to vote yes," said Ross, who also graduated from Warren Township High School.
Village board members Karen Thorstenson and Quin O'Brien declined an opportunity to speak about the referendum at the board meeting. Reached by email Wednesday, O'Brien said he is still in the evaluation stage. Thorstenson did not respond to a request for comment.
A similar attempt last year to ask district voters for a property tax hike was rejected by a vote of 4,700 to 3,753. Proposed tax increases also were rejected in November 1995, November 2000, February 2003 and April 2007.
District 121's last approved tax-rate hike was a 12-cent increase in February 2001, and the only other time voters approved a tax increase was in 1972.
District leaders are planning informational sessions up until the primary on June 28. For more information about the referendum and when public meetings will be hosted, visit d121.org/domain/141.