School tax plan is just too big

School tax plan is just too big

There's a limit to what should be asked of taxpayers.

Another Election Day — Nov. 8 — is drawing near, and so, too, is another tax-increase proposal for school renovation and construction in Champaign.

Unit 4, for the third time in two years, is asking for a lot of money to finance a laundry list of projects — $183.4 million. That figure doesn't include an additional $25 million in spending that will come from the district's cash reserves.

The News-Gazette reluctantly supported a $144 million proposal that Unit 4 put on the ballot in March 2015. Voters rejected it by a 70-30 margin.

It's difficult to turn down proposals aimed at improving the lives and education of young people, but the cost this time is just too high. That's why The News-Gazette recommends a "no" vote on a school-funding plan; it simply places too much of an increased tax burden on property owners.

Much as some people may not like to admit it, the national economy is not strong. Further, Illinois is a faltering state with a poor business climate and high unemployment compared with its neighboring states.

Taxing bodies — the state, the county, the schools — are constantly clamoring for more money from overburdened taxpayers. Now comes Unit 4 with a Christmas-tree building-and-renovation plan that carries a price tag that would choke a horse.

It's easy to understand why school board members want to solve virtually all the district's remaining building problems in one fell swoop.

But that zeal demonstrates a tone-deafness for the concerns of taxpayers that is hard to comprehend.

It's important to remember that the discussion over the schools started with the need to address the shortcomings of Central High School. There's no doubt that it needs an update, whether that means building at another location or renovation and expansion at its current site west of downtown Champaign.

But in a typical Christmas-tree fashion, what started with Central morphed into almost everything for everybody. In addition to the Central plan ($87.1 million) is a Centennial plan ($63.6 million) and a new Dr. Howard Elementary School ($16.1 million).

All told, six different schools and two athletic fields (McKinley and Franklin/Spalding) would be covered by the plan. The News-Gazette has reported extensively on this issue, so there's no need to revisit all the details here.

Given the ambitious nature of this package, it's no surprise the costs ballooned to Olympian heights.

This is not the first time the board has gotten carried away with building plans. Remember the 1-cent-per-$1 countywide sales tax for school facilities that voters approved about seven years ago? A different Champaign school board promised to pay off all its existing bonds with the revenue while using additional proceeds to finance an $83 million spending plan for improvements to its elementary schools.

That was fine. What wasn't fine was when the board, wanting an additional $14 million for further improvements, boosted property taxes on its own through sleight-of-hand involving its working-cash fund that blocked a public vote on the proposal.

That's one more reason why this plan is hard to swallow. The planned tax hike would cost the owner of a house with a market value of $150,000 an additional $280 per year in increased property taxes, the owner of a $200,000 house an additional $387 per year and the owner of a $250,000 house an additional $493 a year.

That's every year going forward for 20 years to pay off the bonds needed to finance the project. Further, it's on top of already-sky-high property taxes.

To some people, those extra costs may be a trifling. But to others, they may be terrifying. To most, it's real money that would require modifications to the family budget.

Board members need to curb their enthusiasm and focus on a smaller package.

Given the district's comfortable cash reserves, a property-tax increase to fix Central need not be a financial backbreaker for taxpayers. But the bloated package board members propose deserves to fail as a consequence of its own weight.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

Mastadon-27 wrote on September 25, 2016 at 1:09 pm

“But in a typical Christmas-tree fashion, what started with Central morphed into almost everything for everybody. In addition to the Central plan ($87.1 million) is a Centennial plan ($63.6 million) and a new Dr. Howard Elementary School ($16.1 million).”

 

I have commented on this in prior articles on the subject by the News-Gazette. The greatest need is Dr. Howard; either replace on the same site, or choose a new site. Cost effectiveness would suggest the current site and move the students to the IPA while the work is done. Yes, the IPA is a “special school”, the need is greater to replace Dr. Howard than provide “safe space” for the current students at IPA.

 

Central does need to be modernized and renovated, in stages. The green space for athletics should wait for the academic spaces to be completed, and be brought before the taxpayers in a separate referendum. Centennial will have to wait for the next referendum, after Central is addressed. Centennial is in acceptable condition for academics. The HVAC system can be, and should be addressed from the district’s current operating budget.

 

“This is not the first time the board has gotten carried away with building plans. Remember the 1-cent-per-$1 countywide sales tax for school facilities that voters approved about seven years ago? A different Champaign school board promised to pay off all its existing bonds with the revenue while using additional proceeds to finance an $83 million spending plan for improvements to its elementary schools.”

 

I note that the county-wide sales tax was defeated in the boundaries of Unit 4. It was passed in the school districts outside of Unit 4.

 

“That was fine. What wasn't fine was when the board, wanting an additional $14 million for further improvements, boosted property taxes on its own through sleight-of-hand involving its working-cash fund that blocked a public vote on the proposal.”

 

If the current members of the BoE thought they could perform such an action as this again, they would do so in “a New York minute”. The members of this BoE saw the results of the last BoE member’s re-election campaigns. That is, unless some of those members resigned before the next election!