Public And School Board Sound Off On Property Tax Hike

Published 04/09 2012 10:53PM

Updated 04/09 2012 10:55PM

CHAMPAIGN - Champaign school board members aren't backing down on a controversial decision.

Taxpayers and board members took turns letting off steam tonight. They were talking about the board's decision to raise property taxes. The money will be used to put in air conditioning at the districts middle schools. Homeowners and even principals, including Justin Uppinghouse who's in charge at Edison Middle School, spent several minutes pleading with the board to hold strong on their decision. Others were asking for a referendum vote. But if there's anything we learned tonight - it's likely nothing will change.

"As a young girl my mother always told me that if you're going to get in my purse, you must ask me first," said Virginia Whitman of Champaign. That line symbolizes what many people have been saying about the school board's decision to raise property taxes. Others in the room brought up the 1% sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.

"And here we are just a few short years later and you want $14.5 million more and you want to kind of back door us by claiming it's some kind of working cash bond without the voters approval," said Dan Hamelburg of Champaign.

The animosity grew because many felt the board promised there wouldn't be another tax hike. But member Dave Tomlinson disagrees. "What I'm very personally frustrated about is being called a liar multiple times," Tomlinson said. "Never was it talked about, ever ever ever once from me, the guy who did it, that we were never going to ask for more money again."

Member Jamar Brown says he understands the financial strains of a tax hike, but that's not enough to make him change his mind.

"If you are against this for whatever reason, bring me another option, bring me an alternative. I cannot just say no because someone doesn't like it," Brown said.

Each board member spent a few minutes defending their decision. Not everyone who made a public comment stuck around to hear them, but John Banbenek did.

"Nothing was said of really why this can't be taken to the voters," he said. "The school board asks every year that we need to rebuild trust in the community. This is an opportunity for them to ask, place their trust in the voters."

No action was taken tonight and no board member gave any indication they would change their minds.

The property tax hike would raise $14.5 million over the next 20 years.

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