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District 161 considers costs, benefits of abating tax levy

Flossmoor District 161 school board members continue to struggle with questions that will help them determine the next tax levy. Also at the Oct. 23 meeting, the board honored the Parker Junior High School cheerleading squad for its recent efforts at raising more than $500 in the Cancer Support Center’s Walk of Hope.

  District 161 school board members honored
  Parker Junior High cheerleaders for their
  recent fundraising efforts.
(Photo by R.L.
  Anderson/H-F Chronicle)
 

Flossmoor District 161 school board members continue to struggle with questions that will help them determine the next tax levy.

Board members are trying to decide whether property owners would be better served by saving an average $60 on their property tax bill or having the school district surrender $2 million over the next three years, a sum which can never be recouped.

The administration is recommending a levy increase of 2.1 percent, based on the Consumer Price Index.  That levy is in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget, which has already been approved by the board. The recommended levy would generate nearly $500,000 in this year’s budget and compounds to higher amounts in both 2019 and 2020.

However, some board members at the Oct. 23 meeting indicated an interest in fully or partly abating the levy increase. A full abatement would lower the average homeowner’s tax bill by about $60.

Whatever the decision on the tax levy, it must be published in November and enacted by December 26.

As the deadline nears the board is seeking outside opinions.

Board member Merle Huckabee, who has been the most outspoken advocate of tax relief for residents, suggested that area state Representatives Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest), Will Davis(D-Homewood) and Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights) be invited to a future board meeting to discuss the issue.

Robert Grossi, Bloom Township school treasurer, was on hand at the meeting to help analyze the district’s options.

“Freezing or abating the tax levy has negative and positive consequences. It is not clear cut,” Grossi said.

Grossi stated the South Suburbs have the highest tax rates in Cook County and the tax base “is less than when I was a kid.”

“With a lower business tax base, we rely on residents,” he said. “That’s why taxes are so high.”

District 161’s fund balance is currently at $29 million and some board members believe those funds can be tapped to provide budget and tax relief.

“You have about a one-year reserve,” Grossi said of the fund balance. “That’s a positive.” He said many area school districts have far less in reserves.

The wild card in school finances around the State of Illinois is that no one is sure exactly how new state funding legislation, approved this summer, will impact local school districts. Grossi suggested the district’s relatively high tax rate could negatively impact how much state funding Flossmoor schools will receive in the future.

“The funding bill was the worst thing that could happen to District 161,” Grossi added.  “If you start running a deficit, you won’t get additional funding.”

Board President Michelle Hoereth said the tax levy debate in Flossmoor is like a puzzle.

“We have to look at the pieces of the puzzle,” she said.

In other business, the board honored the Parker Junior High School cheerleading squad for its recent efforts at raising more than $500 in the Cancer Support Center’s Walk of Hope Oct. 1.

“We wanted to give back more than we normally do,” said Cynthia Ray, who coaches the cheerleaders. “The girls were very supportive; the parents were very supportive of this good cause.”

The board presented certificates to squad members, including Nadia Browder, Anala Brown, Kaitlyn Cole, Triniti Fields, Regan Gibson, Avonna Hall, Ariana Harris, Danielle Robinson, Pehyton Robinson, Kennedy Roberton, Jaya Russell, Janell Speaks, Tabia Travis, Jada Watson, Chloe Abraham, Jordan Abraham, Isabella Borrayo, Issarah Hester, Marybel Jimenez, Jamie Kohn, Kameara Kurns, Jada Lee, Mary Olusoga, Kyla Rogers, Morgan Rodgers, Kai Smith and Jordan Martin.

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