Tort ruling may bring tax hike

Tort ruling may bring tax hike

By The other shoe drops Thursday for Attorney Mike O’Brien. At 9 a.m., the Illinois Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on the use of tort funds as practiced by Rockford District 205.

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

The other shoe drops Thursday for Attorney Mike O’Brien. At 9 a.m., the Illinois Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on the use of tort funds as practiced by Rockford District 205.

“If we lose then we’re done–finished,” O’Brien said Tuesday. “If we prevail the case will be sent back to the trial court to determine the refunds,” he said. “There are some procedural objections, but I’m not too concerned about them.”

The ruling will have a direct effect on the upcoming referendum to replace tort taxes. “If O’Brien wins, the referendum is a tax increase,” Mary Hitchcock of R.E.A.CH. said “It’s how benevolent you want to be to the school district. I’m not going to vote for it.”

O’Brien’s anti-tort arguments have been upheld by the local trial court and by the appellate court before going to the state supreme court.

“I think we will prevail,” O’Brien said. “If we lose there will be an insidious effect on our political system in the long term. I think there will be more lawsuits.”

Should the court’s ruling favor O’Brien and the referendum is approved, the resultant tax hike would be about .1225 cents per $100 assessed value. The savings to taxpayers works out to about $1.05 per $100. If the lawsuit wins and the referendum fails, the taxpayer savings would be $1.175 per $100 assessed value.

If the court’s ruling on the lawsuit is against O’Brien and the referendum is successful, the taxpayers would see a savings of .0817 cents per $100 assessed value. If the referendum loses in addition to losing the court case, there would be no change in the district’s total tax levy.

Both O’Brien and Hitchcock are critical of efforts to sell the referendum. “If I win, it will become more evident all that stuff you read in the paper … people will come to understand it isn’t accurate,” O’Brien said.

“This is a scam they’re running,” Hitchcock said. “They’ve deceived the public. They keep saying it’s a saving. It’s a tax increase. The group leading the referendum campaign has not been honest. In order to get a $15 million [state] grant they have to take on $29 million in debt.”

O’Brien said, “If we’re able to end judicial taxation, voting for the referendum is a vote to increase taxes. If the district doesn’t have judicial taxes then it will have to pay for COPS (certificates of participation) from the general educational fund. That’s at the maximum levy.”

He predicted a political debate and a financial crisis for the district would ensue in that event. “I think the people who vote for it [the referendum] to avert a financial crisis should get a pat on the back,” O’Brien commented.

He said he intends to suggest that the school board, if he wins, pay the tax refunds from next year’s tax levy and not get involved in litigating procedural objections.

“I think people could be convinced to rally in support of the referendum to avert a financial crisis,” O’Brien said.

“How much money are you going to give ‘em,” Hitchcock asked. “They haven’t used my [tax] money wisely. The debt increases every year. I’m not going to vote myself a tax raise.”

School Board Member Stephanie Caltagerone said she remains in the undecided column where the referendum is concerned. “I don’t want to trash the referendum,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

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