The Lake Forest High School District 115 school board approved a 5 percent increase to the tax levy for the 2013-14 school year at its meeting Tuesday night.
Because much of that money will come from new revenue due to the expiration of the city's Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, the average homeowner will actually see about a 3 percent increase in property taxes from the approved increase.
The TIF district in Lake Forest is the area around McDonalds, Sunset Foods and Everett Elementary School, including some residential properties. A TIF district is an area which has been blighted, and the city decided it would not develop it on its own. In an effort to build up the area, the city sells bonds and uses that money to build essential infrastructure in the area, such as roads, sewers and utilities to entice development.
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In the case of the Lake Forest TIF District, which was set up 23 years ago, it was successful and the area built up. Throughout those 23 years, all of the property taxes paid from properties in the TIF District went toward paying back the bonds, as opposed to the non-TIF areas of town, where the income goes toward government services such as schools, libraries, the police department and city hall. Because the TIF District expires this year, the bonds have now been fully paid and the tax revenue from properties in that area will now begin to go toward government services.
The expiration of the TIF will result in an additional $50 million in tax revenue next year, which the District 115 school board ensured it would get a percentage of with the approval of Tuesday's levy. This would account for around 2 percent of the 5 percent levy, putting the aggregate increase on current properties at around 3 percent.
The approval of the levy was the final step in the school's "Path to Black," a series of steps implemented in 2009 to balance the district's budget without making deep cuts into programs.
Other elements of the "Path to Black" program included reducing the size of the LFHS staff, reconsidering the contract service agreements the school had and re-negotiating contracts with the teachers.
"Last year was the first balanced budget in three years," Allen Albus, deputy superintendent of finance and operations with District 115 said.
He also noted that this year's budget was balanced as well, which was announced in the audit discussed at Tuesday's meeting.
Because the levy increase was set above 5 percent, the board was required to hold a "Truth in Taxation Hearing" about the issue before their Dec. meeting, though no citizens spoke out against it.
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