The disparities in property taxes across the state of Illinois is "epidemic," according to Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego).

"I think overall, the property tax discussion is one that should be had statewide," Kifowit said. "When you look at the disparities, it’s epidemic statewide."

Kifowit made the comment in response to the news that Oswego School District 308 had not been selected as a beneficiary of a property tax relief grant through the state’s Education Based Funding (EBF) formula for the second year in a row.

The EBF includes a provision for school districts with high tax rates, relative to other school districts to lower the property tax burden on its residents, with the state replacing a portion of taxes through the grant.

OSD 308 had previously applied for the grant in 2018, but had been turned down.

In a statement sent to the Oswego Ledger Wednesday morning, OSD 308 Director of Communications and Public Relations Theresa Komitas said, "Oswego Community Unit School District 308 is disappointed to not have been included in the 39 districts that were announced�by the Illinois State Board of Education as eligible for the 2020 Property Tax Relief Grant.

"Confidence was not high our district would be awarded the grant, given our ranking on the list. We support this grant along with other�measures being put in place by the state to support funding of public education in Illinois."

Kifowit acknowledged that the fund is not currently given the money that it needs to provide relief.

"The fund was established with good intent, but we need to work to do more," she said. Part of the difficulty, she acknowledged, came from prior imbalanced budgets at the state level.

Legislators, she confirmed, are looking at multiple avenues of easing property taxes, including the different areas that make up a homeowner’s property tax.

Kifowit, who serves on the Property Tax Relief Task Force formed during the 2019 session, previously confirmed that the task force’s School Funding Subcommittee made four suggestions for reducing the overall property tax including: closing the loophole allowing districts to engage in continual bonding after a bond issue has expired; allowing school districts to petition for increased state funding to lower their levy; mandating that school districts with "significant" cash reserves must either abate the excess reserves by lowering the levy or identify the purpose and use timeline for the funds; and instruct the Illinois State Board of Education to establish best practices for districts regarding debt and mandating long-term planning goals to assess a district’s finances.

The possibility of a petition, Kifowit said in a previous interview, would be a more widespread method of appealing to the state for districts than methods already in use like the Property Tax Relief Grant of the state’s education funding formula.

"This is a goal that I think we want to go forward, not having a selective grant process," Kifowit said. "If we could expand the grant program and make it more petition-based, then that would be a goal."

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January 30, 2020 at 09:40PM