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Some U-46 residents say no to higher taxes, expenses
U-46 taxpayers air grievances at public hearing
By Madhu Krishnamurthy
Posted September 22, 2014

Several Elgin Area School District U-46 taxpayers, largely from the DuPage County portion of the district, complained of higher tax bills and rising expenses during a public hearing on the proposed 2015 budget Monday night.

The school board is expected to adopt a $488 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year Sept. 29. It incorporates $20 million more in anticipated revenues and $13 million more in expenses from the previous year's budget. 

The budget also calls for a 1.5 percent tax levy increase tied to the Consumer Price Index, which determines the rate of inflation. The school board won't vote on the levy until November or December.

Richard Francke of Bartlett said the district's reserves are growing to the point where taxpayers deserve a break.

"U-46's cash balance has grown to over 20 percent of what the annual budget actually is," he said. "U-46 is more than $50 million over-accrued and it's time to freeze the levy for future years."

Phil Costello of Bartlett questioned the administration's efforts to contain costs.

"Has there been any considerations given to charter schools or vouchers to mitigate the cost of increases?" he asked.

Speakers also complained about a gaffe by Kane County that led to significantly higher property tax bills for some U-46 taxpayers in Cook and DuPage counties.

Helen Leopold of Bartlett said her taxes increased by $800 last year and $1,200 this year. "I'm now (paying) over $13,000," she said. "We just can't afford it. You are forcing us out of our homes."

Officials said the percentage of tax burden spread among the counties changes each year.

A representative from the Kane County clerk's office explained the error that led to some homeowners' tax bills going up significantly in Cook, DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties, while Kane County homeowners saw a dip in their tax bills.

Kane County officials didn't catch the error and sent the state incorrect tax extension calculations, which is used to determine the percent of tax burden for each county when taxing districts' boundaries cross over county lines, said John Emerson, supervisor of the county's Tax Extension Department.

"The numbers changed the percent of burden by a few percentage points for all three counties affected -- Cook, DuPage, and Kane -- but unfortunately impacted some tax bills more than others," Emerson said. "In order to rectify the mistake, state law allows for a prior year adjustment in the following year to correct any errors or changes that need to be made to the tax levy after bills have gone out."

Kane County homeowners will see their property tax bills increase next year. Cook County already made corrections on its second installment of property tax bills that went out earlier this year, while taxpayers in the other counties likely will see adjustments next year, Emerson said.

"It's hard to put a number on how much an individual taxpayer is going to feel," Emerson said. "The miscalculation was in no way the fault of U-46."

The district will receive the total amount it budgeted and levied for in the affected tax years of 2012 and 2013, he said.

Cody Holt of Elgin said U-46's budget is still inflated no matter who is paying the price. He called on the school board to rein in spending and live within its means.

"Under this board, we have seen an increase of district-funded programs outside of the classroom," he said. "Why does this district need to increase its budget on the backs of the hardworking taxpayers?"

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