D181 board approves tentative levy

The Community Consolidated District 181 Board Monday night approved a tentative 2020 tax levy. But the ultimate amount sought could hinge on figures not yet known.

Board members unanimously approved a levy request for operating funds in the amount of $66.4 million. That’s roughly 3 percent more than the 2019 tax extension of $64.4 million and reflects the 2.3 percent consumer price index and $22.2 million in estimated new construction, according to Richard Engstrom, assistant superintendent of business and operations.

Engstrom told board members the district’s fund balance strategy to target an audited operating fund balance of no more than 50 percent of total expenditures could dictate an abatement to taxpayers during the window early next year for reducing the levy.

“If we notice we’re going to be above 50 percent in February, we can still make the correction,” he said.

Engstrom also said an exploration of options for a permanent district administration center, which board members had approved earlier in the meeting, could have an impact. Administrators currently operate out of 12,000 square feet of leased space in Clarendon Hills for $206,685 per year. The district is in year one of a five-year lease. The 20-year cost of leasing would exceed $5.5 million.

The options are purchasing an existing building for an estimated $3.6 million, building on existing land for an estimated $5.2 million and building on purchased land for a projected $6.2 million. Administrators will research available property over the next couple of months and bring findings back based on the potential for long-term savings.

“Depending on how much that building costs, it may affect how much we’re going to levy or abate,” Engstrom reported.

Board President Margie Kleber said she favors the approach of requesting a “balloon” levy that can subsequently be reduced.

“We certainly don’t want to take more than we need, but we want make sure that we’re not hurting ourselves by taking less before we really know how much money we’re going to get,” Kleber said.

Board member Meeta Patel agreed, saying the district has been trying to be more proactive in addressing facility maintenance and upgrades.

“We want to not overburden the taxpayer, but it’s really important to keep front and center the large future projects as a driving force,” she said, noting also the longstanding desires to implement full-day kindergarten and expand the world languages program. “I think it’s really important to keep those big projects in mind so that we have a purpose for estimating to take the ballooned amount.”

Superintendent Hector Garcia responded that the fund balance strategy addresses “how do we get money back to the taxpayers if our priorities have been met.”

Board member Bill Cotter challenged the need for a balloon levy when the district enjoyed a budget surplus last year and is projected to again this fiscal year.

“Why are we not looking at a lesser levy?” Cotter posed, raising the idea of a flat levy. “It is a critical function and a duty that we owe the taxpayers to be very clear about why it is that we’re asking for certain funds.”

After a period of public display, the board is expected to adopt the levy at its Monday, Dec. 7, meeting.