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Waltham superintendent: No county money for new school

Administrator says plan relieves taxpayer burden

Waltham School plans to build a new school and consolidate students from both buildings under one roof. The building, as pictured in this rendering, would save the school money and improve efficiency, according to the district.
Waltham School plans to build a new school and consolidate students from both buildings under one roof. The building, as pictured in this rendering, would save the school money and improve efficiency, according to the district.

The Waltham School District plans to build a new school using a unique funding system.

But a story in The Times on Saturday was misleading in saying the district intended to use some property taxes designated for the county, Waltham Superintendent Kristine Eager said Tuesday.

“We’re not going to take any of the tax dollars being collected on the county’s behalf,” she said.

The new system’s explanation was far from clear at last Wednesday’s meeting of the County Board’s TIF Committee, with county board members ending up with different understandings.

“This is something that has not been done in the state of Illinois to our understanding,” Eager told The Times. “It’s a pretty complicated process that’s kind of difficult to wrap your head around.”

Legislation for the
new funding system
was supported by State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, and State Rep. Jerry
Long, R-Streator.

The key feature is it will allow the school district to concentrate the use of its new property tax entitlements.

Typically, each property tax dollar a school district receives is divided between various earmarked sub funds, such as education, building maintenance and transportation. Not all of those funds can be co-mingled.

Instead, under the legislation, some of the additional tax dollars coming to the district in the future will be available in their entirety to repay bonds to be issued for the new school to replace the district’s two existing schools.

Those new funds will be coming from renegotiated extensions of village of Utica and city of La Salle tax increment financing districts set up more than two decades ago.

Municipal TIF districts freeze the level of taxes paid to other local governments and allow additional taxes to be used for developer incentives, such as water and sewer lines. When the TIF expires the other governments receive their full share of taxes.

“TIFs are double-edged swords,” Eager said. “There’s great reasons to create TIF districts for the development of property that has been sitting vacant, and they incentivize the developers to come in and do something with it. But on the flip side they hurt those taxing bodies that rely on the developments’ tax dollars.”

The Waltham School District has nine TIFS, Eager said. After lives of more than 20 years, three of them are set to expire — but the municipalities would like to extend them. The agreements approved by the Waltham school board would allow the district to receive full property tax credit for the developed areas within those TIFs.

Being able to channel all that revenue toward retiring the 20-year bonds to be sold for the new school will prevent having to tax the school district’s property owners, Eager said.

“Anything not to burden our taxpayers: Truly that’s what this is all about,” Eager said. “We want to do what we need to do for kids, but without placing any more burden our taxpayers.”

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