A Closer Look at Unit 4's Budget

Published 03/28 2012 05:15PM

Updated 03/28 2012 07:08PM

CHAMPAIGN -- The Champaign School Board's decision to raise property taxes for building repairs has raised a lot of questions. Many people are expressing concerns, mainly because the sales tax increase in 2009 was for the same thing.
    And, the board made this decision without people voting for it. We heard your confusion over the issue and put WCIA-3's Amanda Porterfield on the case. She sat down with a district leader and parent to sort it out.
    It's not exactly easy to understand, which is part of the problem. A lack of clear communication between the board and residents.
    "Over the years I've come to learn that education is at the core of a community," says Schultz.
    Getting to the core is why Charles Schultz stays involved. He goes to PTA and school board meetings, and makes sure to ask questions.
    "Why do we need a property tax why do we need working cash bonds?" asks Schultz.
    Here's why the district says it's  needed. In 2009, Champaign schools borrowed $83 million in bonds to build Booker T. Washington and Carrie Busey schools, plus land for Central High School and lots of repairs to five elementary schools. The district gets $7 million each year for the next 20-years from the county sales tax increase. Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas says that money pays the loan back.
    "The Board of Education decided it wanted to make those improvements to last our community a generation, two generations 50 years or more." says Logas.
    But repairs to the three middle schools are needed and the district doesn't have the $14.5 million to pay for them. That's why the board wants to raise property taxes.
    "So even with the $25 property tax increase we are still by far the lowest taxing district in Champaign County." says Logas.
    But, why not let voters have a say?
    "It does not reach enough corners of the school district to get a 50 percent vote," says Logas. 
    And, what about the almost $6.5 million surplus in this year's budget?
    "We can absorb deficits for a few years. The good news is we will be able to react with a scalpel instead of a hatchet," says Logas.
    Gene Logas says the board never promised not to raise property taxes. Instead, it wants to do the best stretching money from the sales tax increase to avoid a property tax hike. But, with a decrease in state funds, it wasn't possible.
    It's not likely there will be another tax hike soon. But, keep in mind the district still needs money for the high school project and for repairs to Dr. Howard and Southside, not to mention the transportation building, so anything is possible.

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