LANSING | It took five votes, but the Lansing Elementary District 158 School Board on Thursday was finally able to settle on a 2013 tax levy that shows a 6 percent increase over last year's levy.
A testy crowd of almost 100 residents gathered in the gymnasium of the Lester Crawl Primary Center for a public hearing held prior to the regular School Board meeting.
About a quarter of those in attendance took turns addressing the School Board to express their displeasure with plans to raise the levy, especially at the 23 percent increase that had been given preliminary approval last month.
Several residents said any increase should be left up to the voters to decide via referendum.
Some were upset that only five of the seven board members were present for the controversial vote.
The audience was told that board Secretary Robert Bonifazi had a prior work commitment and that board member Brian Stewart had taken ill.
Board member Anthony Arens attempted to have the vote postponed to the legal deadline of Dec. 23 so the entire board could participate, but then realized the required public notice could not be posted in time.
All five board members voted no to the 23 percent increase that D.158 Business Manager Mark Crotty had recommended in November.
The crowd applauded loudly when board member Jeff Kiester then countered with his proposal for a zero percent increase. But only he and Arens voted for no increase.
Board Vice President Chuck Taylor then made a motion for a 9.65 percent increase that Board President Robert Wood had asked the board to consider at a tax levy workshop on Dec. 12.
Prior to his motion, Taylor reminded the audience that when board members vote to raise taxes they are raising their own taxes, as well.
He said the two things people are most passionate about are money and children.
"The only time that we generate this kind of crowd is when it comes to taxes," Taylor said.
Arens seemed to expect the 9.65 percent increase to be approved, as he loudly and passionately repeated the opinion he expressed at the Dec. 12 workshop that the School Board has failed voters by not insisting that Superintendent Cecilia Heiberger present budget cuts.
"I've never seen a cut made," Arens said. "I've never seen this board make a suggestion for a cut and let the superintendent do her job."
But the 9.65 percent increase failed when only Taylor and board member Suzanne Long approved, as Wood joined Arens and Kiester in voting no.
Arens' motion for a 1 percent increase failed next when only he and Kiester gave approval.
Taylor's motion for a 6 percent increase was successful when he, Long and Wood approved that measure, which resulted in grumbling from the audience.
After the meeting, Wood said there had not been a tax increase in the district for two years.
"We had a 22 percent decrease two years ago and a flat rate last year," he said. "People forget that we cut taxes and nobody wants to pay more and I understand that, but the reason that we're asking for the 6 percent is to get a cash flow that's positive. We do not want a negative cash flow."
Wood said the total amount of the 2013 levy is approximately $18.2 million and that the 6 percent increase will generate about an additional $1 million for the district.
Crotty said the 6 percent increase will likely mean the average household will pay about $150 to $200 more in property taxes for the year.
In other district news, Heiberger said it is the consensus of the School Board not to broadcast its meetings at this time.
A resident asked last month if consideration had been given to making meetings available for viewing on cable TV or the Internet.
Heiberger said Arens was the only board member to express a definite desire to do so.
Arens said it would allow senior citizens to stay informed without leaving their homes.
"What are we trying to hide from them?" Arens asked.
Wood said the boardroom in which meetings are held is too small to facilitate taping and that the village itself does not broadcast its meetings.
"It's not something that we would never consider, it's just that nobody feels the pressing need to do that," he said.