Illinois School Board Members Favoring Higher Taxes Appealed Own Tax Assessments

Published January 22, 2018

$2 Million Increase Proposed

Wilmette, Illinois’ School District 39 is proposing to increase its annual tax levy by $2 million, or 4.36 percent.

New Trier Neighbors, a community group opposing the increase, ran an ad in December 2017 in the local newspaper, The Wilmette Beacon, stating, “39 of the 50 constituents who recently wrote the Board of Education supporting the levy (i.e. tax increase) recently sought reductions in their personal property tax bills through the property tax appeal process. Six of seven D39 Board members did the same. Together, they lowered their estimated property values by millions of dollars. Remember, when one assessment goes down and they pay less, someone else has to pay more for the same school budget to be met.

“Values of taxable property have fallen 17 percent since 2009, yet D39 schools have received 37 percent more from taxpayers,” the ad further stated. “More school funding is not leading to higher property values.”

‘A Hallmark of Liberalism’

New Trier Neighbors board member Betsy Hart says the school board members’ hypocrisy is representative of their political ideology.

“As we were talking about a $2 million tax increase, it occurred to us that a hallmark of liberalism is spending other people’s money,” Hart said. “Could the school board be asking for a $2 million tax increase in Wilmette, at the same time the individuals on the board were working to reduce their own tax liability? It seemed likely, and since the information was public, it was worth checking out.

“No one was surprised when we found out that all elected board members but one had appealed their taxes in 2016, dropping their combined property assessments by $850,000, with three of them before the board of appeals right now, so that number will go higher. That means that those people pay less, and other Wilmette residents, as a result, pay more. Why? Because the school budget has to be met. If some people’s taxes go down, the county must raise the taxes of others to compensate.”

The great majority of other residents writing to support the tax hikes also appealed for tax reductions.

“Somebody later got the idea to see what the Wilmette residents writing letters to the board to raise taxes had done,” Hart said. “Keep in mind, what people write to the board and their tax appeal are all public information available to anyone. Sure enough, 80 percent of people who wrote the board saying ‘Raise taxes for our schools!’ had appealed their own taxes either last year, the year before, or both.”

‘Money It Doesn’t Need’

Beth Feeley, president of New Trier Neighbors, says the tax increase is unnecessary.

“I think the issue is that the school district plans to take money it doesn’t need,” Feeley said. “They can fully fund the budget next year without extending the levy. That money should stay in the pockets of taxpayers who earned it. Two million dollars is a lot of money, and we live in an area where there are multiple taxing bodies; when they each take their part, it adds up.”

‘Give Taxpayers a Break’

Feeley says she and her fellow constituents value schools but are fed up with irresponsible spending.

“We have a long tradition of funding our schools more than adequately and value our schools,” Feeley said. “It would be exemplary if the district could in good faith operate on the budget they have projected and give taxpayers a break. In addition to taxes, the community gladly supports the schools in many ways, through volunteering, through the [Parent Teacher Association], and through partially funding the expensive Learning Commons projects [library remodeling], which still caused the district to dip into its reserves to pay for them.

“With the … federal tax reform, we are looking at a cap on what homeowners can deduct, so every new tax at a local level matters,” Feeley said. “We need to stem the ever-rising tide of taxes and ask that the school in good faith ask for what it needs, not what it can take.”

Tori Hart ([email protected]) writes from Wilmette, Illinois. Betsy Hart, quoted in this story, is related to the reporter.