State error will result in tax refund
School District 51 will refund property taxpayers $335,927 next year due to three years of miscalculations in the district’s mill levy rates.
Property taxpayers living within district boundaries were charged more than they should have been on their 2011, 2012 and 2013 tax bills payable the following years because of a state error in preparing mill levy worksheets for the district, according to District 51 Chief Operations Officer Phil Onofrio.
The mistake led to the district collecting $46,487 extra in 2012, $144,363 more than it should have in 2013 and $145,077 extra this year. Those funds were used in 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 school year budgets.
Onofrio said the district’s plan is to make the refund in one lump sum by lowering their mill levy rate this December. That means district taxpayers will get their money back by getting charged less on taxes to be paid in 2015.
The refund won’t amount to much per household, with homeowners set to shave just $1.56 off of their property tax bill for every $100,000 of their home’s value. Commercial properties are charged at a higher rate so commercial property owners will trim $6.05 off of their tax bills for every $100,000 of their property’s worth.
With school board members primed to adopt the district’s 2014-15 budget Tuesday, Onofrio said the district will likely use money from reserve funds to cover the $335,927 shortfall.
“It’s too late to try to cut something,” he said. “We have enough in reserves that it’s not an issue.”
Onofrio, who was hired by the district a year ago, said he did not question the state-provided mill levy rate until local government watchdog Dennis Simpson asked him why it appeared the district was collecting more than the $4 million allowed for a 2004 mill levy override. Onofrio inquired with the state and found out the total amount gathered for 1996 and 2004 override measures together had been wrong for three years, a mistake he said was the result of a mill levy miscalculation on collections for the 1996 override measure.
“I’ve never seen an error like this. School districts rely on the state 100 percent” for mill levy calculations, Onofrio said.