Monday, the District 196 School Board approved a more modest preliminary property tax levy for the upcoming year.
The $68.2 million levy for 2014 represents a 7.6 percent cut when compared to the current year. This year's levy (taxes payable in 2013) totaled $73.8 million, about $5.6 million more.
District officials attribute the decrease to additional "equalization aid" from the state, which was written into the 2013 Omnibus Education Bill. Equalization aid is meant to minimize economic discrepancies between cities with robust industrial and commercial development and their less fortunate peers, therefore "equalizing" the cost of local school levies.
It is hoped that the windfall from the state may better position the district during the upcoming levy referendum. In addition to the regular levy for 2014, the district does have a levy question on the Nov. 5 ballot. If approved, the existing supplemental levy will be extended past its expiration date in 2015. The supplemental levy would provide an additional $10 million per year for 10 years. District officials say that approval of the levy referendum is necessary to forestall major budget cuts over the next two years.
According to a release from the district, Director of Finance and Operations Jeff Solomon said the reduction in the regular 2014 levy would blunt the net tax impact of the district's proposed levy referendum question: When the reduction is factored in, the tax impact on an average home in District 196 drops from $184 per year to $56 annually, he said.
The regular levy amount is not set in stone. After Monday's action, the board can cut the levy, but cannot increase it unless given explicit approval by the voters during the upcoming referendum. The School Board will certify a final levy at its Dec. 9 regular meeting.