District 117, County Officials Discuss Delay in Property Tax Disbursement to School Districts

By Benjamin Cox on June 23, 2022 at 2:12pm

Jacksonville School District 117 is on budget. However, disbursement of the county’s property taxes to the school district has caused some trepidation about whether Eisenhower Elementary School will be able to receive the full scope of renovations that had been planned over the last year.

Morgan County property tax disbursements to school districts had come in June over the last four years. With the disbursements coming close to the end of the fiscal years for school districts, financial officers and school districts have had to amend budgeting procedures. School districts throughout the state are on similar fiscal year calendars as the State of Illinois, with new fiscal years beginning on July 1st each year.

Morgan County Treasurer Crystal Myers said Tuesday that whether the tax disbursement occurs in June or July, school districts still receive their amounts because legally her office can’t and doesn’t withhold payments: “In the last few years, we have been able to disburse the money in June. We were hoping to do that again this year. That will always be our goal. There were some delays that happened this year in getting things to our office that were nobody’s fault – things that were beyond our control. We got the bills out as soon as we could and set the due date by law. When the tax bills go out, we have to allow 30 days prior to the due date by law. That’s the explanation. Some years they’ll be due in June. Some years will be due in July. We will always try to have a June due date. We will always try to distribute in June, but it will not always work out that way. This year, there will just be a few weeks delay to getting those funds to the school district. It will be about 3 weeks until they get the funds, but they are getting their funds. They’ll be getting their money for sure.”

Myers says that the the software company representative that walks the county’s department heads through the budgeting process retired in April. Myers said that that this particular representative had been working with Morgan County for a number of years and had knowledge that made the process go faster. She says that many of the procedures for the budgeting process this year had to be done remotely and with new people, which slowed everything down.

The last four years, distribution of property tax funds had taken place in June and had also been through direct deposit. Prior to 2018, Morgan County school districts received their property tax disbursement in July.

Superintendent Steve Ptacek said at the June 15th School Board meeting that a day makes a difference: “Whether we put $8-9 million in the school district’s fund balance in June or July is a major impact on our budget. People could think it’s one month. That’s not how annual fiscal budgets work on a cash accrual basis.”

District 117 Chief Financial Officer Richard Cunningham said at a special public hearing on Wednesday evening that despite the disbursement coming late from the county this year, the school district’s budget is right where it should be: “On the previous amended budget, on the FY22 ending fund balance, the previous amended fund balance was at $31.8 million, and with this new amended budget that was updated on Tuesday, I have it down to $31.4 million. Again, on the amended budget, we don’t have the revenues coming in from that tax distribution that we were anticipating at the beginning of the [school] year. Overall, in the numbers, there was not much of a change from the original presentation.”

District 117 Board President Noel Beard reiterated that the $5.4 million reduction shown in the amended budget presented on Tuesday was based off of the anticipation of receiving that property tax disbursement in June and not July: “The reduction in our fund balance is because we only received one property tax payment during the [fiscal] year. With that property tax payment being roughly $9 million, we would have shown a $3 million surplus. We were expecting that first property tax payment to be in June and it won’t be coming until mid-July at this point.”

Myers said that the solution to the problem moving forward is moving the school districts in the county back to paper checks: “I hate that their fiscal year ends between June and July because we can’t make a guarantee on when we will be able to make that disbursement. I have offered to the school district to have a paper check to give them more control on when their money goes in their account. That’s about all we can really do to help them. We cannot make guarantees. Things just happen. A few weeks’ delay for most people wouldn’t be a big deal, but I do get the school district’s fiscal year and what it looks like on paper. They truly did not operate at a loss.”

Ptacek said on June 15th that the current situation has created a temporary downside when it comes to Phase III of the Vision 117 renovation plans: “Four years ago, when we got this extra payment, and then the next year get the same number of payments – we had a one year windfall of $8-9 million. Originally, we were going to use that for the Washington project. Well, then, the online sales tax came in. ESSER came in to pay for the Washington project, so we were going to start talking about doing the Eisenhower project with that [money]. Now, with the new shift, it’s shifting back to its old pattern. That $9 million windfall we no longer have. I want to stress once again, we didn’t get shorted any money. We are just not getting the advance that we thought we were 4 years ago, and it’s of no fault to anybody.”

Ptacek says doing the full scope of the Eisenhower renovation will have to be scrutinized in the coming months as a result. He says with current delays in the supply chain for construction materials, inflation, rising costs, and maybe other unseen outflows of money from the the district; Eisenhower’s full renovation may have to be spaced out over a number of years.

Ptacek says that one piece of the Eisenhower project will get done with the district’s ESSER funds: “The big thing at Eisenhower that is in the ESSER plan is to get the cafeteria done because then, the students won’t have to share the gym and the cafeteria in the same space. Some of that money is still to replace flooring and some other projects. We are a little concerned that the increased costs that we are facing with the Washington project will also be in those numbers that we put in as estimates. We don’t know for sure exactly how much we are going to be able to do [at Eisenhower]. We are committed to at least getting the cafeteria done.”

The Washington Elementary renovation is currently in full swing, with internal demolition and final asbestos removal being completed. Modular classrooms for the upcoming school year are near being placed onto the Jacksonville Middle School grounds due to existing infrastructure left over from the JMS renovation. The classrooms are set to be operational by the first day of school in August.