Inflation Weighing On Naperville School District 203’s Tax Levy Proposal

File image District 203 administration building
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With inflationary pressures and other factors in play, Naperville School District 203 officials are anticipating using the state’s 5% maximum public schools tax cap law for next spring’s 2023 tax levy, which will be certified next month. How this will impact residents in Naperville and surrounding communities within the district’s boundaries could depend on a variety of factors.

Proposed District 203 tax levy discussion

District 203’s school board on November 14 voted, 6-1, in favor of a resolution that proposes a baseline 5% increase in the property tax levy next spring, with a additional 0.99% increase factored in specifically for new construction. All told, the district’s preliminary request at this time is a 5.99% increase.

“Property taxes are the largest source of revenue for most school districts throughout the state of Illinois,” Michael Frances, District 203’s chief financial officer, said. “Over 85 percent of our district’s budget comes from local property taxes.”

The resolution sets the stage for an upcoming 30-day period between preliminary adoption and an official public hearing on the proposal, which will be held at the board’s second meeting next month, on Dec. 19. The various pieces of the puzzle follow state law and timeline requirements.

Timeline for adopting the levy

The school board’s Nov. 14 meeting was the first opportunity to deliberate on next spring’s levy, which must be certified and sent to county clerks no later than Dec. 27, but could still be adjusted through March as additional pieces of information come into sharper focus.

Frances said there are three key pieces of data that ultimately will determine what the upcoming levy figure will total. At this time, only one of the three — the consumer-price index — is known. The official 2021 figure is 7%, though District 203 is held to a 5% cap under state law.

Data on how much net new construction has been funneled into District 203’s total tax base this past year, as well as the equalized assessed valuation, or EAV, formula, is still forthcoming and remains preliminary based on estimates.

“Those numbers will not be finalized and released until March,” Frances said of new construction and EAV calculations.

Frances said there are a number of factors the school board must consider as it determines how much to ultimately increase the upcoming levy. At Frances’ recommendation, a majority of the board voted to levy to the state’s maximum allowed limit with the door open to further modifications between December and March.

“The board has the ability to reduce the levy, after (the December levy resolution) adoption, but cannot add to it,” Frances said.

Balancing school costs with impact to taxpayers

Board member Donna Wandke cast the dissenting vote on the preliminary resolution. She pointed to recent budget surpluses and suggested some of those funds should be returned to taxpayers before District 203 levies to the maximum amount allowed by law.

“I think our responsibility is to also look out for the taxpayer and determine that really fine line of what the district needs and the impact on our taxpayers,” Wandke said. “I’m not comfortable with the recommendation. I’d like to see us levy less.”

Board President Kristin Fitzgerald, however, maintained a different perspective on levy-related decisions — particularly with look-ahead projections that indicate costs will continue rising, namely with employee salaries and benefits.

“One of the things I’m most concerned about, looking at the five-year projection, is that we’re going in a deficit every year, particularly in those further out years, where it gets more significant,” Fitzgerald said.

The taxpayer impact

What will District 203’s proposed 5% baseline levy increase mean to the average Naperville taxpayer? It’s a complicated question, Frances said, and his preliminary presentation to the board did not include an across-the-board hard-and-fast dollar figure.

“Individual property tax bills may differ,” Frances said. “Different assessment changes, and whether an individual property’s assessment changes are less than, or greater than, the average change, districtwide, can cause an average tax bill to be less than or greater than an average increase.”

Speaking in general terms, Frances said the review of year-over-year assessment changes would play an important role in determining how much additional a specific property owner would pay to District 203 in next year’s bills.

“Property values do not rise uniformly across all parcels,” Frances said. “The burden of taxes might shift from property owners with lower increases to those with higher increases.”

For Naperville News 17, Dave Fidlin reports.

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