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Unit 5 voters will see tax referendum on the November ballot

Unit 5
This bar chart, projected on the wall during Wednesday night's Unit 5 school board meeting, shows proposed Unit 5 tax rate projection, based on the assumption that a referendum passes in November.

Unit 5 leaders are asking voters to expand the district’s taxing authority for one fund, but promising the overall tax rate will go down.

The board unanimously agreed Wednesday night to put a referendum on the November ballot, asking voters to increase the maximum amount Unit 5 can levy for its education fund that pays most district expenses, including salaries.

Formally deciding to pursue the referendum follows a six-month-long community engagement process that focused on closing the district’s multimillion-dollar structural deficit, building a sustainable budget, and meeting community goals for its education system.

District leaders said if the referendum passes, an additional $20.5 million in property tax revenue would become available to Unit 5. However, district finance chief Marty Hickman said the district wouldn’t levy more than the current rate of $2.72 per $100 equalized assessed valuation until the 2025-2026 year.

That’s because the district already put in place working cash bonds to cover the next few years' budgets, he said. As those taper off, the district would increase the education fund’s tax rate to $3.60, an increase of 88 cents, making up the difference.

With a bar chart outlining the plan projected on the wall of Normal Community West High School auditorium, Hickman explained how the proposed changes shift the district’s current overall tax rate of $5.61 per $100 equalized assessed valuation, down to $5 rate because of the retiring debt.

Hickman said the district started using working cash bonds as a temporary fix in 2018-2019.

The election is Nov. 8.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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