The District 46 School Board yielded to the overtaxed Grayslake community Wednesday by voting down the proposed 4.5 percent tax levy increase.
The board's final tax levy hearing included a presentation by the business manager and a stream of public comment from residents and business owners who pleaded with the district to live within its means and find creative ways to save money and reduce spending instead of raising taxes yet again.
In a move that surprised many, the board took heed, voting down the proposed $32.6 million tax levy 5 to 2.
Board members Michael Carbone, Kip Evans, Ray Millington, Shannon Smigielski and Keith Surroz voted against the levy, while Sue Facklam and Karen Weinert voted in favor.
"If we continue down this road, it will starve all of us," said Evans prior to declaring his vote.
A second vote was then needed to establish a new levy request in order for the district to file with the county by Friday.
After some discussion with attorney Kevin Gordon on how to proceed, a motion was made to submit the total levy with a decrease of $750,000 from the $21 million levy request for the Education Fund, the district's largest operating fund.
The measure was approved 5 to 2, with Facklam and Weinert opposed.
Gordon said the Education Fund was the only fund where a decrease could be made, because the funds for Bond and Interest, Municipal Retirement and Social Security had required increases which could not be altered.
Therefore, the $32.6 million proposed levy turned into a request for $31.9 million—the same levy request as last year, which resulted in an extension of $31.2 million.
Had the original levy request been approved, the owner of a $200,000 home could have expected to pay another $484 in property taxes just for District 46.
Now, the increase is expected to be closer to $90, because of the bonds, said Gordon.
Board president Millington admitted he "really struggled" with his decision to vote down the levy request.
Surroz conceded the district hadn't done a good job in looking at staffing and other areas to cut spending. Earlier in the meeting, Surroz stated he personally didn't want to raise taxes but feared for a state takeover like the one Round Lake District 116 found itself in because they "spent themselves into a hole."
Facklam, who voted for the levy as proposed, said she was concerned with the long-term effects of decreasing the levy because "you can never get that money back."
She suggested the board continue to work on more budget cuts and revisit the tax issue in the spring.
"I've heard that for three years," said Carbone.
Business manager Anna Kasprzyk suggested the board could move forward with approving the levy as originally proposed then abate the $750,000 in March.
"I don't trust that," said Smigielski.
During the levy hearing, residents and business owners voiced their frustration over being taxed out, on the verge of losing their homes and their livelihoods.
They've been pleading with the school districts to give them a break.
Just last week, the Grayslake High School District 127 Board voted 4 to 3 to approve a $44.4 million levy, which represents an increase of $1.9 million or 4.53 percent over last year. Board members Ed Brown, Thomas Halloran and Ken Witkowski voted against the increase.
At Wednesday's District 46 meeting, Third Lake resident Susan Stewart said she found it unconscionable that the board would even be considering a tax increase given the struggle of the taxpayers.
"I'm ready to retire now and I can't because of taxes. My property taxes are almost equal to my mortgage payments," she said.
Commercial realtor Larry Dyer, who presented on behalf of Grayslake business owners at board meeting in October, voiced their concerns once again.
Dyer urged the board to "have the courage to take the road less traveled (and vote down the levy) because it was "the right road."
"Bring accountability back," he said.
Business owner Dan Ostick said the community could no longer absorb the increasing tax rates and that another increase would drive more residents and businesses out of Grayslake.
"You folks have to do the hard job and make cuts. Work on it please."
The business owners, which also included Ace Hardware owner Richard Laskowski, vowed to work with the district to find ways to reduce spending and stay within its budget, which still includes a $1.2 million deficit.
"This is one of those times where it is going to take a village," said Smigielski.
D46 Proposes $32.6 Million Tax Levy
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