Sterling school district plans to begin abating taxes

Board committed to using sales tax funds to save taxpayers $1 million

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STERLING – A rare bump to the equalized assessed value in the Sterling school district will help the school board start making good on its promise to abate $1 million in property taxes.

The expiration of Walmart Distribution Center’s 10-year Enterprise Zone property tax abatement means a 5.71 percent increase to the EAV in the district. That number has been stagnant in recent history, so a bump such as this doesn’t happen often.

How rarely does it happen?

“Never,” Tim Schwingle, the district’s director of finances, said with a laugh. “It’s been a long, long time – 10 to 15 years maybe – since it’s gone up that much.”

Wednesday night, the school board will recommend levying $12.175 million for the 2016 levy year. The preliminary levy will be on file 30 days before the board will vote to adopt it at its December meeting. It will also vote on approving $333,333.33 to pay down its bond and interest levy.

If that’s approved, the owner of a $90,000 home would see about $66.57 come off the school district portion of his or her taxes in 2017.

“Not a huge amount, we understand,” Superintendent Tad Everett said. “But in this environment, when you look at other taxing bodies in neighboring communities, and even locally, where we’re not getting any funding increase from the state of Illinois, other bodies are really raising our tax rates.”

The levy extension’s increase of $215,000 is 4.84 percent more than last year’s.

The district gets between $1.5 million and $1.6 million in extra revenue from the 1 percent sales tax bump Whiteside County voters approved in November 2014. While pitching the tax bump to its residents, Sterling school district officials said they’d use a portion of the added revenue to abate $1 million in taxes over the next 4 years.

The state’s budget quagmire prevented that plan taking effect last year.

“Because of the governor’s threat or option to freeze property taxes across the state, had we reduced our tax rate at that time, it would have been extremely detrimental, due to the funding formula for schools,” Everett said.

Tax abatement is one of the district’s chief financial goals, along with maintaining a balanced budget, which it had done 4 years running, meeting short-term facility needs, planning for long-term facility needs and lowering the overall tax rate.

Residents can rest assured that there is no “gotcha” moment coming down the pike, Schwingle said.

“This isn’t one of those, ‘Oh yeah, it will come down, but next year, they’ll jack it right back up.’ Our long-term projections show that our rate will remain this low, or maybe even decrease in the future.

“Even when the abatement process goes away, it should be this low or lower in the future.”

WHAT'S AN EAV?

The equalized assessed value, or EAV, is the result of applying the state equalization factor to the assessed value of a parcel of property. Tax bills are calculated by multiplying the EAV (after any deductions for homesteads) by the tax rate.

TO ATTEND

The Sterling school board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the high school library, 1608 Fourth Ave.

Go to sterlingpublicschools.org, or call 815-626-5050 for more information.