Objections aired on school tax levy hike : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Objections aired on school tax levy hike |
|Citizens' group members urge board to reign-in spending|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
Several members of the Kendall County Property Tax Revolt group addressed Oswego School District Board members for more than a half an hour during a meeting this past week.
None of the group members were pleased with the board's approval of a tentative new annual property tax levy for taxes payable next year that shows an increase of 4.98 percent over this year's levy.
The school district's tax levy usually accounts for between 65 and 70 percent of the total amount owed on the tax bills received each spring by local property owners.
The tax revolt group placed an advisory referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot asking voters if they would like local governmental agencies to reduce their property tax levies by 20 percent. The measured passed with 74 percent of the vote.
Bill Oleferchick told the board he has been retired since 1989 and has lived in Oswego for 38 years. When his family moved to the community, Oleferchick said his taxes were $250 and when they sold their first house in 1990, they were $2,600. Taxes on his present house were under $4,000 in 1992 and are now more than $6,000.
Oleferchick said his retirement income has not increased since he retired 23 years ago.
Ed Wilson of Oswego said he was not prepared to speak but decided to add to the other speakers. He said his property taxes are now $800 a month, which was his entire house payment when he bought the house.
He said he purchased a 2,200 square foot ranch house last year on a lake in Tennessee and his taxes are less than $1,000 a year.
"You can argue that they have better schools here, but are they ten times better? I'd like to have someone argue that case for me some day," Wilson said.
Ralph Hoffman of Newark said he does not live in the school district but has a grandson that will attend Oswego schools.
Hoffman said he has taught in a trade school for 20 years and knows the problems teachers face. He said he understands teachers need more resources than they are given.
But Hoffman noted he has seen waste in the public schools and asked that administrators take a hard look at the burden they are putting on the taxpayers. Since moving to Kendall County 17 years ago, Hoffman said his taxes have increased so much that he cannot sell his home.
"I can't see anyone wanting to live in Kendall County today. Knowing what I know now, if I could go back to when I made the decision to move from Chicago to Kendall County, I wouldn't do it," he said.
Hoffman said he has noticed during his travels in town that cars are parked running in driveways until a school bus pulls up. Then a child or two gets out of the car, hops on the bus and the car is pulled back into the garage.
He said the parent driving the car should take the children to school. Hoffman said he favors public education, but not giving children a free ride to school if the parents can provide it.
He proposed the district charge parents for busing kids to school rather than having all taxpayers cover this cost. He added that he approves of paying for buildings, maintenance and other costs related to educating children.
John Bortylot of Montgomery, said school district taxes have increased 25 percent over four years, "most of that in the last year, and now you want to add another five percent to the levy. And at the same time inflation went up another 10 percent and income is down by five percent," he said.
Bortylot said the voters spoke in November on the non-binding referendum asking whether taxing bodies should reduce their property tax levies by 20 percent.
He said taxpayers can't afford items that don't help educate kids, "...like the four story lunchroom behind here. All you're doing is heating dead space that could have been classrooms," he said, referring to the cafeteria at Oswego East High School where board meetings are held.
"You said you found some savings for the taxpayers. Well, we're still waiting to see them. Kendall County is the 24th highest taxing county in the country out of 3,000 counties, and that data is a couple years old, so we're probably in the top 10 now," Bortylot said.
He said his son attends a private high school in Aurora which costs $5,950 for a year.
"Why are public schools almost twice as much?" he asked.
He said governments need to cut the pork, fat and waste out of their costs.
Resident asks board
for truth, transparency
Gregory O'Neil of Oswego said he appreciates the good work the board members have done by volunteering their time. He noted that some of the new board members have changed the track the district had been following. He said it appears the new administrators will be good, but added that this will be determined in the next few years.
O'Neil said the private sector wages are down 4.8 percent over the last five years, while gas and grocery costs have gone up. O'Neil added that everyone would like to have the world-class school system Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt has talked about, but said they can't afford it.
He said that includes the unemployed, the elderly, the sick and the underemployed--who cannot afford to live here.
"So you can't keep pitting us one against the other-the haves against the have-nots. That will not work," he said.
O'Neil said 31,000 people told them it would not work and added that this was "...a mandate from the public to change the direction of this district. We've never seen 74 percent of the people in this county vote for something.
"I understand that you're getting cuts from the state and losing money from other sources. But that is not a reason to pile on grandpa's and grandma's back, another four or five percent tax increase that they cannot afford. They're fighting between food and medicine and that's a reality that I heard over and over and over while putting this referendum on the ballot," he said.
School taxes in Oswego have doubled in the past two years, O'Neil said, and added that based on the track they're now on, they will double again during the next decade. He said changes will be needed if the district is going to levy at its maximum amount every year.
O'Neil said he is also concerned about transparency in the district.
At a previous meeting Bill Walsh, school board president, said the board may interview candidates for Lynn Cullick's vacated seat in closed session. O'Neil objected to this idea.
"We want truth-the whole truth. And we want transparency. Just because the law says you can hold a closed-door meeting to discuss putting a new member on the board, you don't have to do it. There's no reason for it. The public has a right to know what's going on around here," he said.
Kenneth Blue of Oswego, said he felt compelled to attend the meeting at Oswego East High School and added that he was awestruck by the school building.
"I see where our money is and I see how it's being spent because you have to maintain this thing. With this 15 foot-high ceiling, you could almost have two floors here," he said, referring to a second floor community room where board meetings are held.
He said the auditorium is a "beautiful and nice space, but doesn't do anything for education at all."
Blue said he would like to see a time allowed at the end of the meeting agenda for residents to comment on something they did not know would be discussed.
"We might even be able to help you," he added.
He said his family has been in Oswego for 50 years. When they arrived, he said, the population was 1,600 people.
"I don't want to leave here. I've got a place out here where I'm going to get buried," he said.
Blue said he went door-to-door with the tax revolt referendum petitions and heard from many people about how expensive the school district is. He said he received 150 signatures in one day without asking people to sign.
"They volunteered. They are tired of being burdened with heavy taxes," he said.
Donna Thill of Montgomery, said she lived in the district for 17 years and taught in the Oswego School District for 19 years.
She said she has been seeing more board members question policy changes after they had been previously approved by board members.
Thill said the Flex 8 high school schedule was questioned at this meeting by a board member who asked where it came from and questioned the validity of the schedule.
Thill said hundreds of teachers and administrators spent hundreds of hours on the subject before the schedule was approved by the board.
Cynthia Rook of Oswego said she has two children attending Oswego schools and understands the importance of a public education. She said cuts should not be made that affect children's education, but said governments are spending lots of money on beautiful buildings.
She said the voters in November gave them a mandate to cut taxes because everyone is facing tough financial conditions.
"It's not a matter of can it happen, but how it can happen," she said referring to cutting costs.
Rook said the comments about not providing school buses may sound a little crazy to some people. But she said they have to start thinking outside the box.
She said they should not be worried about what other communities are doing, but should be having earnest talks with their own people on how cuts can happen.
"It has to happen and it can happen--across the board. Take a look at janitorial budgets, landscaping budgets. Can building repairs be put off until times are better? There has to be ways these cuts can be made," Rook said.
"It would be unethical not to listen to the taxpayers," she added.