Lick Creek School Board hosts town hall meeting Tuesday Tax referendum on primary election ballot

As a sparsely attended town hall meeting Tuesday night wrapped up, the closing message from the Lick Creek School District 16 Board of Education was clear.

Those present were encouraged to go to the polls and vote in the Feb. 2 Union County primary election.

One of the issues on the primary election will be a referendum in which voters in the Lick Creek School District will be asked to approve a property tax increase.

The school board hosted Tuesday’s town hall meeting as part of a special meeting. Only about a dozen people turned out for the meeting on a bitterly cold night. The district is home to about 1,000 registered voters.

School board president John Basler said he would have liked to have seen more people at the meeting, but he, along with other board members, were appreciative of those who came out on a cold winter night.

Given the current state of the economy, Basler acknowledged that proposing a tax increase was not easy.

“This is difficult,” he said. However, in light of the district’s funding situation, Basler said it was “important for us to do this now.”

The Lick Creek School Board adopted a resolution in October 2009 to place a referendum on the Feb. 2, 2010, primary election ballot.

The referendum will ask voters in the school district to approve a 65-cent increase to the district’s tax levy for four years. The levy would go to 2.37. The increase would be in place for tax levy years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

A pamphlet headlined “Why A Referendum?” was made available to those attending the meeting, which was held in the Lick Creek School gymnasium.

The pamphlet detailed a wide range of information related to the referendum. School board secretary Bill Ecker highlighted much of the information featured in the pamphlet during a presentation shared with those at the meeting.

Ecker explained that the district has “a history of being financially conservative, yet has continued to lose money for the last several years.” From 2006 through 2009, those losses totaled $155,420, “a significant amount considering the entire budget is approximately one million dollars.”

“The state financial picture has not helped either,” Ecker explained. “Several state funded programs have been decreased or cut out altogether.

“Payments from the state for other programs, such as reimbursement for transportation and special education costs, have been several months late in arriving.

“Once stimulus funds provided by the federal government, which are being used by the state to supplant general state aid payments, are no longer available after this year, the situation could grow even worse.”

Other factors which have an impact on the district’s funding situation is that the school district has one of the lowest tax rates in the state and the role of the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, PTELL.

PTELL is a local option property tax limitation. Union County voters approved PTELL in November 1996. Since implementation of PTELL, Lick Creek School officials say the district’s tax rate has dropped from 2.11 ($2.11 per $100 in assessed valuation of a piece of residential property) to 1.81. These numbers mean that the district’s tax rate has dropped by 14 percent over the past 10 years, and a further decrease is anticipated. Ultimately, the decrease prevents Lick Creek from receiving the full amount of state funding that is owed to the district.

With passage of the referendum on Feb. 2, the district “will be able to continue to maintain its current level of service and programs.” Should the proposal fail, programs or supplemental services could be cut.

With the new levy in place, a tax on a single-family residence with a fair market value of $100,000 would increase by an estimated $225.12 for the 2010 levy year, $233.90 in 2011, $243.02 for 2012 and $252.50 for 2013. The estimated increases are based on a 3.9 percent increase in the market value of the property.

As he wrapped up his presentation, Ecker said the message to those present was indeed clear: “Whether you are for it or against it, be sure to tell your neighbors” to go to the polls and vote.

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