All signs point to higher taxes if Prendiville elected mayor of Wheaton
An endorsement for Wheaton mayoral candidate John Prendiville from a local school board member is also a warning sign for taxpayers, a review of recent fiscal history in the school district shows.
Jim Mathieson, member of the high-spending Community Unit School District 200 board, wrote on Prendiville’s Facebook page that the fifty-six-year-old Prendiville was “certainly the best man for the job.”
“I look forward to you representing Wheaton in a very progressive matter (sic) as we move forward into 2019 era,” he wrote.
Mathieson was a key supporter of a failed $132.5 million tax increase referendum in 2017, proposed by a district where local property tax spending has risen 30 percent over the past twenty years, while district enrollment has fallen eight percent.
In another warning sign for taxpayers, Prendiville recently told the Daily Herald, which endorsed him, that “a no-tax-increase tax increase” is the answer for what he predicts will be some tough budget years for the city starting in 2021. He supports taking out new loans when loans to fund the library expansion are retired in 2023 -- loans that will have to be paid back with interest.
In contrast, Prendiville’s opponent and fellow City Council member, Phil Suess, told the paper he opposes such a move.
"Wheaton must operate based upon the revenues and reserves it has," Suess said. "We need to prioritize our expenses, reduce costs and avoid raising taxes."
Property taxes in Wheaton are already double the national average.
“Wheaton, population 53,389, recorded a median sale price of $334,000, based on data from the 324 properties sold during the first half of 2018,” a DuPage Policy Journal analysis shows. “In 2017, homeowners paid a median property tax bill of $7,376, according county tax data from the DuPage County Assessment Office.
“That’s 2.21 percent of the community’s median home value," the analysis continues. "In the U.S., the average effective property tax rate is 1.19 percent.”
The $132.5 million referendum supported by Mathieson would have cost taxpayers $206.1 million to pay off.
“The owner of a $322,300 home -- the average in the district -- would have paid $180 to $295 annually in additional taxes for the first nine years,” according to a Daily Herald report.
Some of the money raised in 2017 by the borrowing would have funded a new early learning center to replace the Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton. The alternative, a lease arrangement with a bank that was approved by the voters in November 2018, was not the something-for-nothing plan as presented by the district last fall.
Tax expert Todd Barron told the DuPage Policy Journal that the district cannot guarantee that the construction of the new center would not lead to additional taxes.
“It seems too good to be true,” Barron, president of Barron Corporate Tax Solutions of Wheaton, said. “The simple fact is that the cost of any multi-million-dollar project will be borne by local taxpayers.”
Last August, Wheaton resident Jan Shaw filed a lawsuit against the board’s plan to construct the new center funded by the lease arrangement; the district had initially planned to move ahead without voter approval.
In a commentary published by the DuPage Policy Journal last August, Shaw wrote that over the last several years the district “spent our money on just about everything possible” but Jefferson.
“Along the way, District 200:
• raised our property taxes every year to the maximum amount permitted by the tax cap,
• supported Courthouse TIF financing that kept valuable property off the tax rolls and shifted the burden to homeowners,
• issued $30 million in non-referendum bonds (“Working Cash Fund Bonds” in 2009 and 2014) to cover deficit spending,
• signed teacher contracts that gave raises in excess of projected property tax growth and
• had the highest paid superintendent in the State of Illinois at one time, while fighting all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court against disclosing his contract terms.”