Deerfield Rotary Club members received differing views on the merits of an $89 million referendum to refurbish school facilities at both Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools as proposed in the April 9 election.
CLEAR (Community Leaders Educating and Advocating for the Referendum in 113) are supporting the District 113 referendum, while members of Education First in 113 are opposing it on the grounds that “the $89 million referendum is not necessary because the District has the financial resources in place to address its infrastructure needs, thus eliminating the need to increase taxes for property owners.”
Alison Smith, a Highland Park resident and CLEAR volunteer, spoke first on behalf of District 113’s referendum.
“This is a different animal from the previous referendum that failed,” she told Rotarians at a luncheon last Thursday in Deerfield. She was referring to a similar $133 million District 113 referendum that was defeated in 2011 by a 56.5 to 43.5 percent vote.
Smith stressed the lengthy 18-month process District officials and volunteer committees went through to develop the new referendum.
“We did our best to separate wants from needs,” she said in displaying the various recommendations that came out of the study committees. She referred the public to CLEAR’s website (www.CLEAR113.com) that contains a concise Referendum Project Summary that outlines proposed facility refurbishments for both schools.
She said the total project cost is $120.4 million, but taxpayers will pay only $89 million over the 20-year lifespan of the referendum bonds because the District will pay $25 million from current budgets over the next five years and receive $6.4 million from uncommitted “value engineering” savings.
Smith said a homeowner’s property tax assessment example for a $300,000 home in the District will be about $173 in levy year 2013, a $47 increase from the District’s overall levy in 2012. If the referendum fails, the taxpayer would only pay $15 to District 113 in the 2014 levy because the District made significant debt payments this year.
She said residents can determine what their actual referendum tax will be by using a handy “tax calculator” on the District 113 web site. You simply enter the equalized assessed value (EAV, or one third of your property value) of your house or business, and you will note the District tax rate shown for 2012, and with the new referendum plugged in for 2013. Press the Calculate button and your estimated referendum bond and interest payments for the next 20 years appear.
Following Smith’s presentation, Frank Pirri, chairman of Education First in 113, said the District doesn’t need an expensive referendum to refurbish facilities at both schools since they already have sufficient funds to accomplish that.
“They have $47 million in reserves, $32 million of which has accrued in just the past two years,” he said.
“You should understand that the District’s referendum calls for spending $120.4 million, and the District indicates this is only for Phase One.” Pirri said.
He said $89 million would come direct from property taxpayers. Another $25 million will come from the District‘s annual operating budget, and the final estimated $6.4 million in uncommitted “value engineering discounts” from school contractors.
What will the community get for $120.4 million? Pirri says not much more than they will get from Education First’s proposal that was offered at half the price. And, most importantly, without the necessity of an $89 million taxpayer referendum, or a property tax increase.
Education First’s plan was developed by architects and building and construction professionals to demonstrate to District 113 officials that there are viable, less expensive alternatives than the $100+ million plans it keeps putting forth, he stresses. Pirri directed the public to its website www.educationfirstin113.org for more details on A Better Plan.
Pirri said that maintenance at both schools has slipped in recent years as is apparent in a brief video the District recently produced showing peeling wall paint and other damage. Administrators are over-reaching by bundling a wish list of unnecessary wants in their referendum plans, including two new pools with diving wells, and two new gyms, instead of addressing essential needs, he indicated.
Pirri said in spite of a recession occurring during the past three years, Deerfield residents approved referendums for $30 million to rebuild the Village’s wastewater reclamation plant, and another $12 million to build a new Public Library.
“We are forcing our seniors, the unemployed, and others living on tight budgets out of their homes because of constant increases in the local property tax. Recent statistics show that 141 homes located in the 60015 ZIP code are now in foreclosure, 43 within Deerfield’s village limits. I’m sure times are difficult as well in Highland Park,” Pirri said.
Pirri said District administrators could implement a long-term financial plan to fix facility deficiencies because they could easily raise sufficient funds without a referendum. He suggested $25 million could come from the District’s $47 million current reserve, plus allocate another $5 to $7 million per year for five years from annual operating budgets to raise up to an additional $35 million.
Pirri concluded with emphasis on the fact that the $89 million referendum was not necessary because the District has more than sufficient funds to address its infrastructure needs, and as a result no new taxes would be necessary.
The program ended with a brief question and answer period led by Rotary President Dorothy Collins.