DOLTON | For about 20 minutes Wednesday night, the three high schools of Thornton Township District 205 were facing a financial hole of just under $64 million.
That was because the District 205 School Board initially failed to approve a property tax levy for 2014, an action being taken by municipal and school boards all across the south suburbs this month to ensure they can receive money from the property taxes paid by local homeowners.
The School Board initially voted 3-3 on a levy that called for the district to receive $63.87 million from property tax revenues. That figure is a 1.7 percent increase compared with the previous year, and the district’s financial adviser, Rob Grossi, said it would amount to about a $15 increase for a home valued at $80,000.
The board later reconsidered its action and voted 6-0 to approve the levy. But to some board members, the tax increase was enough to consider rejecting it outright.
Board members Toni Williams and Judith Gibbs, along with Vice President Darren Robinson indicated they did not want to approve a levy, even though governments and schools are required to submit their approved levies to Cook County government by Dec. 31.
All three insisted their opposition was out of concern for property taxes increasing even slightly for homeowners. Williams said she wished the School Board could have been presented alternate levies so members could pick and choose what they wanted to do.
But Grossi and district Business Manager Robert Charnot both urged the board to reconsider, spending about 20 minutes to inform them of the dire consequences to District 205 if no levy was put on file.
“If you don’t approve this levy, this (school) district won’t last two years,” Grossi said.
Charnot said the district would not be able to recoup the just-under-$64 million in local taxes in future years, since the levy of $0 would become the new base recognized by the county assessor’s office for District 205 finances, and state laws limit how much a levy can be increased in any given year without voter approval.
“You would lose that funding for the rest of the life of the school district,” he said.
In recent years, the district has had budgets of about $100 million, with the remaining third of the district’s funds coming from various state and federal grants.
Because Illinois government, in particular, has in recent years been cutting the amount of money it provides for public education, officials said the loss of any property tax revenue would harm the district.
“If we give away ($64 million), we would have to start making drastic cuts in our spending right now,” said school board member Edward Crayton, one of three board members who voted initially to approve the tax levy. “It wouldn’t be a year or two from now.”