LANSING | The Lansing Elementary District 158 School Board has given preliminary approval to an estimated 2013 tax levy of $22,084,400.
"From last year to this year, that is a significant increase," D.158 Business Manager Mark Crotty told the School Board on Wednesday.
Crotty said that amount represents a 23 percent increase from the 2012 tax levy, which the School Board approved with no increase from the previous year.
"The reason why we are able to do that 23 percent is because there's a public act that if you have a decreasing extension you shall pick the highest of the prior three years," Crotty said.
He said that takes the district back to the 2010 levy.
"What happened after 2010 was that the board made a conscious effort to try and assist the community, knowing that there's hard economic times," Crotty said. "So what we did at that time is they lowered the extension 22 percent. That was approximately $5.5 million at that time."
Crotty said that resulted in a total of $11 million on which taxpayers were not taxed over the past two years. Crotty said the proposed increase would cost the average homeowner about $350 to $450 more in property taxes for the year.
He said the approximately $4.8 million in additional revenues the 23 percent increase would bring over last year's levy could be used in various ways.
He proposed that $1.5 million be abated back to the taxpayers.
"So they wouldn't be assessed on that total of $4.8 million, they'd be assessed on the $3.3 million," Crotty said.
He added he would like to see $3 million used to help pay off the cost of renovations at Reavis Elementary School, which he said would save taxpayers $700,000 since bonds would then not have to be sold.
The board voted 5-2 to approve the estimated 2013 tax levy. A vote on final approval will take place at the Dec. 18 School Board meeting, which will be preceded by a public hearing regarding the levy.
Board members Anthony Arens and Jeff Kiester voted against the estimated levy.
Arens suggested that Crotty look back further than 2010 when considering this year's levy and take into account the impact taxpayers felt as a result of what he said was $60 million the district spent from 2002 to 2010 on school renovations or construction.
"We did give a big tax break and now you're asking to take it all back," Arens said.
Arens recommended the board hold a workshop so it can discuss the levy further, and one was scheduled for Dec. 12.
"To go to the public and ask for 23 percent is a bullseye on our backs," Arens said.
Board President Robert Wood said if the district does not take advantage of the three-year rule that Crotty explained, it will lose the only opportunity it will have to access those funds.
"I think if we do this drastic step, we have to make a moral commitment that in ... December 2014, the seven of us sitting at this board have to say there will be no increase," Wood said.
Board Secretary Robert Bonifazi said his approval of the estimated levy does not mean that he has made up his mind.
"I'm glad I have a month to think about it to do more research," Bonifazi said.