The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 candidate seeking voter okay to hike taxes
By Seth Hancock
“Shall Elgin School District U-46 be required to seek voter approval by referendum prior to increasing its annual total property tax levy?”
That’s the question voters in Wayne will answer during the consolidated election on April, 4. According to a press release from Cody Holt’s reelection campaign to the Board of Education, the candidate walked “almost every street in Wayne” to secure the necessary number of signatures to put this referendum on the ballot.
According to the press release the common theme from residents of Wayne was that they’re “sick and tired of increasing property taxes” and “the average Wayne taxpayer is paying about $14,000 in property taxes annually with many others far exceeding that number. The burden is driving working families and seniors out of their homes.”
Local property taxes and financial management by local governing bodies are often contentious issues in contested consolidated elections, and the U-46 race will be contested with six candidates vying for three seats. Holt, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith are the incumbents on the ballot while there are three challengers including Enoch Essendrop, Melissa Owens and Tracy Smodilla.
Holt was elected in 2015 and has voted against both budgets and property tax levy increases presented during his time while Smith has consistently voted for tax increases and budgets during since taking her seat in 2001. Noland’s record has been inconsistent since taking her seat in 2013 as she voted against the first two budgets but for the last two.
According to the press release, Holt’s colleague on the board Jeanette Ward, who has joined Holt in voting against budgets with spending increases and the tax increases, as well as Essendrop helped circulate petitions and Smodilla is supportive of the referendum.
Holt spoke with The Examiner and was asked why put the referendum on in Wayne, one of 11 communitiess within the U-46 boundaries.
“I decided I would put this referendum on for the residents of Wayne because I believe that the taxpayers of Wayne are representative of the majority of taxpayers in U-46,” Holt said. “They consistently see their taxes go up year after year, and they’re sick and tired of tax increases.”
This school year the board approved a 1.9 percent tax increase and the previous year an increase of 1.89 percent, both by 5-2 votes. Last year the board unanimously approved an abatement for the first time, which the U-46 administration’s states effectively keeps tax bills flat, and has voted for an intent to abate this year.
Even with the abatement, tax rates do go up and hit future property owners and some current property owners have still seen their tax bills increase according to Holt. U-46 represents the largest portion of the property tax bill.
“We have to remember that the majority of the board still levied taxes and still increased the tax rate, and many of these residents, though we still abated back, many of these residents have still seen tax increases,” Holt said. “And this is why I put it on specifically for the Village of Wayne, because these people have continually seen, year after year, their taxes go up.”
Although he has supported the abatement, Holt has consistently asked for a property tax freeze.
The last election appeared to give the message that a large portion of the district wanted some change as Holt, Ward and Phil Costello all won seats on a ticket of bringing more fiscal responsibility to the district. Traci Ellis won reelection and Sue Kerr won a seat on the union-backed ticket that supported the status quo, and the status quo has been maintained by a majority with Noland and Smith.
Holt was asked if the voters of Wayne pass his referendum does he feel the message may actually be heard this time by the board and administration.
“Since they pay the most in property taxes, I believe that it does set a precedent that people out there want some control, and you want the power to return back to the taxpayers to decide whether or not their taxes are increased,” Holt said.
Noland, Owens and Smith have already been endorsed by an anonymous group that is pushing the idea that U-46 has a revenue problem as it pushes for so-called “equitable funding” from the state.
It would appear the district administration has been part of a class warfare battle that pits the “have’s” against the “have not’s” over the last several years in its political campaign for “equitable funding.”
The district, including U-46 CEO Tony Sanders, has been critical of the state not providing adequate funding compared to wealthier districts because U-46 loses more money to proration each year than other districts.
However, what the district and Sanders have failed to include is the fact that U-46 receives around three-times more state funding per student than the wealthier districts that Sanders has used which accounts for why U-46 would lose more to proration. According to this year’s Illinois School Report Card, U-46 receives 28.6 percent of its funds from the state which exceeds the state’s average of 24.9 percent.
The Illinois’ debt, which currently is at $153.4 billion according to usdebtclock.org, and other fiscal problems plague the state as U-46 seeks more money from a state that’s broke. Despite declining enrollment, nearly 1,000 students fewer since 2012-13, the district has consistently increased spending.
U-46 spending has increased $57.7 million since 2012-13, and in December 2015 the district gave budget scenarios it wants to spend $27.5 million more in just a few short years, by 2020.
While one side says there’s a revenue problem, Holt said that “spending plays a huge role on why taxes are increased.”
Holt has advocated for certain reforms, such as eliminating the prevailing wage as well as creating local empowerment zones where workers would have the freedom to not join a union, and said with those reforms and a tax freeze the district will be able to better control its budget.
“You can start to see real and true relief for the taxpayers along with making sure that we spend on what we need in our district and not what we want, such as full-day kindergarten which is where we spent $12 million on something that was not academically proven to improve results for students and it was in a year of financial uncertainty,” Holt said.