HOMER – Landowners in the southeastern Champaign County area, already paying some of the highest property taxes in the county, could see their tax bills increase under a proposal before the Heritage school board.
According to county records, Longview had the highest property tax rate in Champaign County this year at $9.25 per $100 equalized assessed valuation, with $5.17 of that coming from the school district.
Homer had the third highest real estate taxes at $9.05, and Broadlands was seventh at $8.45.
The school board is considering a proposal to increase the district's tax property levy by 7.6 percent. A levy is the amount of property taxes a government asks for.
The board will hold a public hearing on the proposal at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Homer school building.
According to Heritage School Superintendent Andrew Larson, the district received $2,713,282 in real estate taxes this year.
Under the proposed levy, the district is asking for $2,914,500.
"Most people don't like to have their taxes raised," said former Homer Mayor Dale Wolf. "But the schools have to have money to operate."
Larson said the district needs the additional money to pay for its increased costs, especially fuel and electricity.
"Our buses have a lot of territory to cover; our district includes 105 square miles," Larson said. "With gas prices on the rise, we're going to need more money to pay our bills. And ... we're going to have to pay significantly more for power."
Larson said additional money is needed to pay for salary increases and benefits for the district's employees. He estimates that 75 percent to 80 percent of the district's budget goes for personnel.
In addition, Larson said he expects the district's insurance costs to increase next year.
While the levy request amounts to a 7.6 percent hike, Larson doesn't expect the actual increase to be that much.
The county clerks in Champaign, Douglas, Edgar and Vermilion counties will determine how much property tax money will actually be extended to the schools after figuring tax rates for bonds and interest. In most cases, the amount actually extended to government bodies is less than the amount the bodies asked for.
Larson said Heritage typically asks for more than it expects to receive to cover any possible new construction and new assessed values in the district.
"We're making sure we receive all the tax dollars that come our way," Larson said.
"When all is said and done, our increase is likely to be less than 5 percent."
According to Larson, one of the reasons property taxes have climbed in his district is that the total assessed valuation decreased for four consecutive years.
In addition, Heritage is exempt from tax caps because portions of the district are outside of Champaign County. Champaign County is the only one of the four participating counties that has passed tax caps, even though the bulk of the district is in Champaign County.