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Oswego board approves school district tax levy

Updated: January 16, 2014 6:52AM

OSWEGO — The Oswego 308 School Board has approved a $128.5 million tax levy for 2013, up 2.4 percent from the year before. That money will be collected from taxpayers next year.

The board vote was 5-2, with “no” votes from Vice President Alison Swanson and Greg O’Neil.

About $94.3 million of the total levy will go toward operational costs, such as education, staff salaries and benefits and transportation. About $32.4 million will be directed toward paying down bond and interest debt.

In 2012, the district extended a $125.5 million levy. Of that, $92.4 million went toward operating costs and $33.1 million went toward bond and interest debt.

But the final 2013 levy is slated to be lowered, according to Associate Superintendent Paul O’Malley, who oversees district finances.

There’s two reasons for that. During the budget approval process earlier this year, school board members pledged not to increase taxes on existing property, O’Malley said, a promise they intend to uphold.

On Monday, board members also passed a resolution that says the district will restructure its bond debt in order to hold bond and interest debt payments at the 2012 level for three years.

That means that early next year, when new construction figures are finalized, the district will adjust the amount of taxes it is requesting from taxpayers in both the operating and bond and interest category, O’Malley said. The process is known as tax abatement.

The district still will collect additional taxes on new property and construction, O’Malley said, which includes add-ons to existing property. Estimations for 2013 new construction were not immediately available on Friday.

School districts are allowed to ask for up to 1.7 percent more to cover operating costs, which is this year’s Consumer Price Index. The rate helps account for inflation.

Restructuring debt

Board members debated what to do with the district’s bond and interest debt at their Nov. 11 meeting, when five options were presented.

Board members voted 5-1 to hold the debt and interest levy at $33.1 million for three years. The move was meant to brief some relief to taxpayers, but will add on about $5.7 million to the district’s debt in the long-term.

“This is taxpayer money and I think we need to be financially responsible for it,” School Board member Brent Lightfoot said.

President Bill Walsh, who voted against the plan, was in favor of another option that would have lowered the bond and interest levy to $27 million for three years, bringing a greater initial decrease to tax bills, but increasing the district’s debt long-term by $27.9 million.

The cost of debt is a major concern for the district, which borrowed money in bonds to build several schools in recent years as new families moved into the district.

The “aggressive” payment plan the district signed on to — in an attempt to pay off the bonds quickly — became more of a burden as the economy soured and home values fell.

Equalized assessed value, or EAV, which measures the value of property in a taxing district, has fallen in Oswego since 2009.

That year, the EAV was $2.1 billion. By 2012, it was $1.7 billion. The estimated EAV for 2013 is $1.6 billion.

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