Guest Commentary by Brian Pondenis; printed in The Leader, November 26, 2009; posted here courtesy of The Leader.
After attending the Heritage School Board’s Truth in Taxation meeting, I stand behind everything I wrote in my prior column several weeks ago. All facts contained in the article had concrete sources, including the News-Gazette, the Champaign County Assessor’s office, and Heritage School Board meeting minutes.
My prior article was characterized by Superintendent Larson as containing “half-truths.” The only issue specifically addressed by Mr. Larson as being untrue is the opening sentence of that article (“The Heritage School Board wants to raise your property taxes again.”). At the board meeting, Mr. Larson explained that over the past several years, the school board has lowered the property tax rate for the district. This is technically true. However, Mr. Larson failed to mention that each property owner paid more in tax dollars to the school district each year. Over the past four years, the school district has lowered the tax rate, but actual property tax dollars requested increased by more than 30%. I urge all of you to look at your property tax bills from the past several years: while the school tax rate decreased, the actual amount of dollars you spent for the school district increased!
Mr. Larson admitted at the meeting that taxes could go up “a little bit” next year. Indeed, the district has approved a nearly 7% increase in funds from property taxes for next year. In contrast, the Consumer Price Index – a federal measure of inflation – rose only 0.1% for the last year. Over the past two years, the school district has increased its levy by nearly $400,000. In these economic times, most people are looking for ways to stretch steady or falling incomes, not ways to spend more money.
I was delighted to hear at the board meeting the district’s commitment to use the sales tax revenues to lower our property taxes. Unfortunately, the school district will wait until next November to figure the sales tax revenues into its budget. That means a reduction in property tax won’t be seen until the tax bills payable in 2011. According to an April 12, 2009 News-Gazette article, school districts were going to take the new tax into account during this fall’s budget preparations, and homeowners would see tax abatements on property bills due in June 2010.
Finally, the purpose of my last article was simply to inform the public about the sales and property taxes assessed in the Heritage school district. Indeed, the article was titled, “Public needs to know the truth.” I think it is fair to claim that few people noticed the legally-required “Truth in Taxation” notice published in the local paper, and even fewer people understood its implications on their wallets. Some readers feel it was inappropriate for me to include the Superintendent’s contact information in the last article, but those readers must not have noticed I merely copied that information from the hearing notice the school itself published. I tried to explain in clearer terms how taxes are calculated in order to increase public awareness of this complicated process. The public has a right to know – and to understand – the taxation process and how public funds are being spent.