What to do about more than a million dollars in Tax Increment Finance money? Should the city build infrastructure or help the schools?
This was the subject of discussion during a major portion of the regular monthly meeting of the Harrisburg Community Unit School District No. 3.
The meeting began at 6 p.m.Tuesday at Harrisburg Middle School with a closed session devoted to student discipline and was not open to the public until 7:30 p.m.
The disciplinary session yielded one expulsion at the middle school and one expulsion at Harrisburg High School. These actions were made known shortly before adjournment at 9:30 p.m.
The lions share of the public meeting was given over to discussion of the board's financial woes due to cutbacks in state funding and the lack of planning possible in the face of future state cutbacks.
It was noted that Harrisburg has already cut more than $600,000 from its school budget while other boards in Southern Illinois have taken little action and are getting extensive press coverage due to dramatic cuts that they now face.
The City of Harrisburg's TIF district that affects shopping centers and other businesses around U.S. Route 45 at north end of Harrisburg is set to expire this spring. Harrisburg City Council has recently approved a spending about $2,371,000 from the TIF on a series of infrastructure improvements. The school district supports dividing up the remaining TIF money among the taxing bodies that exist in the city.
"If there is TIF money available, I say shut down the TIF and give us our money," said Superintendent Dennis Smith.
"I had a meeting with Mayor Eric Gregg but did not get an answer to the political question of what to do with the remaining money," said Smith.
President Tom DeNeal said, "You can jump up and down but I am not sure it would do any good."
Smith replied, "While it is TIF money, it was generated by our tax rates. I am not so sure that we shouldn't get our own legal advice. Currently the only legal opinions are coming from the TIF lawyers. I really have a serious problem with what they are planning to do. The city council will make the final decision."
DeNeal said, "The obvious thing to do is get a legal opinion of what we should do."
Board member Dean West pointed out that Marion school district had filed suit to get a portion of Marion's TIF money and then dropped everything due to high legal costs.
Smith added that "Our only legal opinion comes from the TIF attorneys. I am not questioning the need for sewers and road extensions. I really think that our needs are dire. I think that we have a fair claim to the money."
DeNeal said, "We need long term planning but the problem today is we don't know how much we are going to lose in state funding from future cutbacks."
Smith said, "We are going to run out of money. It's probably going to happen next year. I don't think you can cut your way out of it."
DeNeal said, "This is the most dramatic problem our board has ever faced. But I suggest a small committee to discuss it."
Smith said he would ask school attorney Dennis Weedman of Robbins Schwartz Collinsville office for an opinion on the district's entitlement to TIF money.
No date has been set regarding the need for a committee meeting regarding budget planning. The school finance committee will decide that in the future said Smith.
West said, "It is a problem that the board should address sooner rather than later."
In other business the Board held a public hearing in which no one challenged the plan to hold classes on Lincoln's birthday and Casmir Pulaski Day during the 2013-14 school year. These are state required holidays, though schools can seek a waiver.
Smith said he will have a statement during the meeting of the TIF Joint Review Board scheduled 8 a.m. March 28 in Harrisburg City Hall.