CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — By the time Champaign County Treasurer Laurel Prussing resigns on January 31, area school districts hope her office will have sent them the 2018 tax dollars they expected months ago.
Six days into the new year, and districts across the county are still waiting for tax money that typically arrives in May and June each year.
Last year, however, it didn’t.
Prussing said a delay in distributing property tax dollars across the county originated with the Illinois Department of Revenue, which sent out its multiplier — the number used to calculate tax rates — late.
“Because the state was late, we could not get the tax bills mailed on time,” she said.
A June 1 pay-out date was pushed back to July 1, Prussing said, but the delays didn’t stop there.
“This delay caused a great deal of extra work for the Treasurer’s department since taxpayers flooded our phones and emails with questions about what happened to their tax bill,” Prussing wrote in an email to WCIA on Monday. “In addition, the County was in the process of installing an entirely new property tax system. That caused more delay.”
And while Prussing said that “96.5 percent of all tax levies in the county” have been distributed already, there are still school districts waiting for their payments in full.
Of the $102 million-plus in tax dollars allotted to Champaign’s Unit 4 school district, the district is still waiting to receive $3.6 million from its 2018 levy, spokesperson John Lyday said.
In Tolono, superintendent Andy Larson said the district is still waiting on more than $287,000. It’s a small percentage of the nearly $5 million allotted to the district, but that the district is still waiting at all “is unacceptable.”
“We aren’t owed a lot left, but that we are owed any is still a disservice,” Larson said.
More than a week ago, Larson joined Prarieview Ogden superintendent Vic White at a Champaign County Board meeting, where both officials used the public comment section to voice their concern.
White said that in the 24 years that he’s been superintendent, the two visits he’s made to the county board were both in the past year, both centering on the tax delay.
“It shouldn’t have to get to the point where any taxing body has to come to the county board,” Larson said on Monday.
Fisher superintendent Barb Thompson said she wishes district officials could have been given advance notice about the delay before finding themselves in the middle of the situation.
“I think the biggest issue with what happened last year was that we just didn’t know (what was happening) and we couldn’t get a definite answer,” Thompson said. “Given the information, we can try to make adjustments. It wouldn’t have been easy or a great thing, but it would have been nice to just know that would happen. Working with the unknown with a budget is not exactly conducive to great planning.”
Months later, her district is still waiting on more than $136,000 of the $3.8 million allotted to it.
As in some other districts, Thompson said Fisher’s budget process for the coming fiscal year shifted to not expecting to receive the full tax levy amount owed to the district next summer.
“For us, it’s not a big deal this time of year because our reserves can cover that,” she said. “It is a big deal from June to July because that’s when our fiscal year starts over and that puts pressure on the fiscal year.”
Thomosboro Grade School superintendent Bonnie McArthur echoed the frustration of having to change the budget process: McArthur’s small district is still owed $39,578 from 2018.
“I didn’t know for this year’s budget — do I rely on getting early tax dollars in May or June, or no, we won’t get it?” she said. “I had to make a decision, so I planned it as though we wouldn’t get it in May and June. It made our budget off.”
Heritage superintendent Tom Davis said he’s still waiting on nearly $152,000 of the $3.4 million allotted to the district in the 2018 tax levy.
In a semi-optimistic note, Davis said “hopefully this was a one year issue and Champaign is back on track for (next year’s) tax payments.”
Similarly, Mahomet-Seymour Chief Business Official Trent Nuxom said officials there decided to hope for the best when drafting a new budget, choosing “to reflect that we’d receive tax revenue in May and June as we did for decades prior to last year.”
That district is still waiting on $467,220 from the county to-date, Nuxom said.
Rantoul City Schools is still waiting on $245,095 from the 2018 tax levy, superintendent Michelle Ramage said.
Its counterpart — Rantoul Township High School — is not currently owed any tax money from 2018, RTHS treasurer Angie Krickovich said.
Prussing said she anticipates her office completing the distribution of all 2018 tax levy dollars by the end of the month — which also coincides with her resignation date.
After January 31, when Prussing vacates the office, the county will have 60 days to find a replacement. County board chair Giraldo Rosales has said the appointment will be contingent on the approval of the whole county board.
“I don’t care who is in there, let’s get the job done right,” Larson said.
Officials from Urbana, Gifford and St. Joseph Ogden school districts could not be reached before publication.