School districts take most of our property tax dollars.
It is fair to compare unit districts to unit districts.
These are how all schools were originally.
During the run-up to the 1870 Constitutional Convention, there was tremendous borrowing by local and state governments. It was the era of canals, but the railroads came quickly and made them unprofitable.
And that left lots of debt.
There were two reactions embodied in the 1870 State Constitution:
- state government was prohibited from selling bonds without passage of a statewide referendum
- local governments were prohibiting from borrowing more than 5% of their assessed valuation
Eventually, local tax districts like schools decided that 5% limit was too strict.
They asked the General Assembly to allow them to create more tax districts so they could borrow more.
By splitting unit districts into dual districts–grade and high school districts–an area could borrow twice as much money.
You can see what parts of McHenry County took advantage of that end run around the 1870 Constitution.
If you add a grade school rate to its high school rate, you will generally see a higher total tax rate than for surrounding unit school districts.
Because a high school teacher, State Rep. Gene Hoffman (R-DuPage County) pretty much wrote the 1973 Resource Equalizer State Aid to Education legislation, high schools ended up with a larger share of the financial assistance from state government than elementary schools.
That pretty much explains why high school teachers are paid more than grade school teachers…unless the elementary school teachers are in unit districts. In the latter case, the pay is equalized across grades.
If you look at the changes in the tax rates above and realize that probably all school districts are under their statutory tax rate limit, the reason comes to light.
Tax districts are limited by the Property Tax Cap (PRELL, as the professional tax folks call it) in what they can take from taxpayers.
They can get what they got last year, plus any increase in the Consumer Price Index, plus assessed valuation resulting from new growth or the end of a Tax Increment Financing district.
Virtually all tax districts levy to the max, arguing that, if they don’t they will “lose” that money forever.
By their very use of that rhetoric, one can see that they are not on the taxpayers’ side.
If they retained a taxpayers’ viewpoint, the “lost” tax dollars would be described as money the taxpayers would “save.”
So, most follow the taxeaters’ primal urge and tax to the max.
You will note that of the high school district that increased its rate the least was Crystal Lake’s. Thanks might be offered to the Grafton-Algonquin-Nunda-Dorr Community Advocates. (GAND for short). They pushed for not taking the max.
And the District 155 School Board actually listened and followed GAND’s advice.
The district whose rate increased the most was Huntley School District 158. That’s because its board took as much as was possible.
Grafton Township, where most of the district’s assessed valuation is located, saw property values plunge more than anywhere else in McHenry County. The housing bubble of the 1990′s and beyond just burst.
According to a Chicago Tribune analysis, prices decreased 14% in just the last year. Note that the Barrington area had a similar drop in home values and its tax rate jumped almost as much as Huntley’s
Remembering the reciprocal formula, when assessed valuation goes down, tax rates must go up to raise the same amount of money.
Districts used to brag that their rates were going down. What they didn’t tell you was that was not because of any local decision. It was mandated by the 1992 Property Tax Cap legislation.
You will see no press releases from school districts or municipalities this year, just as you didn’t last year. As was reported yesterday, the tax rates for all cities and villages in McHenry County, but Richmond, went up.
As far as grade school rates go, Crystal Lake’s increased the most–13.9%.
Richmond-Burton High School District 157 won the “prize” for increasing its tax rate more than any other high school district.