District 79 tax increase referendum to appear on November ballot

Referendum will increase property taxes hundreds of dollars per year for next 20 years

District 79’s board of education unanimously approved a nearly $11 million bond sale at the August regular board meeting.

District 79 has placed a $10.9 million tax increase referendum on the ballot

The approval came without fanfare and without any public discussion from the board. According to District 79, the bond sale would be used to construct an addition to the existing school building, and replace certain school infrastructure.

Previous comments by board member Frank LaPalermo indicated the November 3 tax increase may be the first in a series of smaller tax increases, in order to eventually get to $25 million+ in bond sale levels the District sought in March 2018.

This time, District 79 appears to be attempting an incremental approach, hoping homeowners won’t object to smaller increases. The strategy failed to show results in 2015, or for District 80 in 2017.

According to a calculator on the District’s website, a home assessed at $250,000 would see about a $300 rise in their property tax bill for the next 20 years. A $350,000 home would see a $400 increase, with taxes increasing based on higher assessed value.

Tax increases stacked on top of each other

The higher taxes would be on top of the $195 million dollar District 207 tax increase referendum which passed in 2018. Most District 79 students flow into District 207 for high school.

District 207 has so far issued $116M of the $195M in bonds approved by the 2018 referendum, resulting in higher property tax bills for most D 79 homeowners.

D207 has $78M in bonds they have yet to issue, which will increase the 207 portion of affected homeowners property tax bills even more.

In addition, re-assessments conducted in 2019 have resulted in much higher tax bills for many residents, including those in District 79.

If passed, the tax increase will result in higher property bills for all homeowners, including those with the senior assessment freeze and senior exemptions.

The District currently has two bond sales outstanding: a $1 million bond maturing in 2021, and a $2 million bond up in 2032.

The $10.9 million bond sale, if approved, would dramatically grow the district’s debt, to several times it’s annual budget.

Although current lending rates are low, the District will still be paying millions in interest over 20 years.

The ballot question will appear as follows:

“Shall the Board of Education of Pennoyer School District Number 79, Cook County, Illinois, alter, repair, equip, improve and build an addition to the existing school building, including, but not limited to, constructing improvements for life safety, aging infrastructure, mechanical and plumbing systems, bathrooms and drinking fountains and constructing and furnishing a STEM lab, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $10,900,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?”

District 79 board leadership criticism

Critics have seized on the bond sale as an example of District 79’s irresponsible spending under long time Board President Michael Malusa’s leadership, and failure to maintain infrastructure in favor of payroll.

Malusa has been on the board since 1993, and his wife, Catherine, has been an employee of the District since 2000.

District 79 had previously refused to entertain cost saving measures such as superintendent sharing, or district consolidation.

Malusa claimed in 2018 that consolidation wouldn’t save any money. The comments were made despite Malusa not possessing any data from a consolidation feasibility study to show whether or not the district would in fact benefit from consolidation.

The District 79 tax increase referendum question will appear at the end of the November 3 presidential ballot.

Early voting begins October 19 at the Norridge Village Hall.

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