D200 board approves abatement; taxpayers save on 2014 bills
School board vice president John Phelan and board member Valerie Fisher first introduced the idea of the tax abatement at a Feb. 19 finance meeting. | File photo
Updated: March 1, 2013 2:09PM
OAK PARK — The Oak Park-River Forest High School board voted late Thursday night to approve returning nearly $2.5 million of its operating capital to taxpayers.
That 4-3 vote, shortly before midnight, came at the end of another marathon board session. It followed the failure of a motion by Ralph Lee that would have allowed a smaller abatement.
Under the one-time abatement, homeowners in Oak Park and River Forest with a house valued at $315,000 will see a reduction of about $55 in their 2014 tax bill.
The idea of returning money obtained in a December 2012 tax levy was first introduced at a finance meeting Feb. 19 by board vice-president John Phelan and Valerie Fisher.
Thursday night Phelan called the abatement a “token of good faith” as the school board begins forming a new financial advisory board that will, among other issues, look into the school district’s oft-criticized fund balance. That balance currently is approximately $117 million.
Sharon Paychak-Layman and Terry Finnegan joined Phelan and Fisher in voting to approve the abatement. Ralph Lee, Dietra Millard and Amy McCormack voted no.
Lee offered an amendment to Phelan’s $2.5 abatement that would have abated $1.6 million instead. Lee insisted the public does not understand the numerous details and nuances of the district’s so-called budget surplus. Most troubling, he said, the abated money would come from funds already earmarked for use in the future.
But Phelan and Finnegan argued that future financial obligations such as possible additional pension obligations ($15 million) projected increased enrollment ($29 million) and capital outlays for renovations including two new pools have not even been discussed yet and that hard cost estimates aren’t known.
“Your point is that all the money is tied up,” Phelan said. “I don’t believe it is.”
In a separate motion earlier, Paychak Layman introduced a motion to use new revenue available from the Madison Street tax increment financing district to pay for the abatement. That died for lack of a second.
In a memo submitted to the board, Paychak-Layman also urged the board to use those same TIF revenues to fund the Collaborative for early childhood education. That idea was also rejected.
The debate over the abatement was co-mingled with a discussion over how to proceed with forming the new Financial Advisory Committee, or FAC. After seriously considering assigning the financial review process to Superintendent Stephen Isoye’s office, the board ultimately opted for a board committee to ensure greater transparency in the process.
The make up of that new financial advisory committee will be determined later.