Written By, Mick Zawislak – Daily Herald, 7/24/20
Taxpayers in the Lake County portion of Wauconda Unit School District 118 will be getting revised tax bills to include a charge to fill a $5.7 million shortage caused by a miscalculation.
The error affects about 10,680 taxpayers in Lake County, which accounts for about three-quarters of the district. Taxpayers in the McHenry County portion of District 118 are not affected.
Revised bills to be sent by certified mail in early August will show a line item for District 118 identified as “arrears” — the amount owed that should have been billed in May but wasn’t because of the mistake, according to Lake County Clerk Robin O’Connor.
“People were probably thinking, ‘Whoopee, I got a break on my taxes.’ Now they’re going to get another bill,” said Lake County Board Member Judy Martini, whose district includes an estimated 1,925 taxpayers in the school district.
For taxpayers in District 118, the catch-up will be pricey — $865 per $100,000 assessed value, which is roughly one-third of a property’s market value.
“Government bodies were under intense pressure to finalize the levy, an essential part of the property tax calculation, during the COVID-19 shutdown,” O’Connor said Friday in a news release.
“My understanding is they applied the entire base of the district to come up with the calculated (tax) rate, which they should just have applied to Lake County,” said District 118 Superintendent Dan Coles.
The district learned the tax bills were incorrect on May 26, William Harkin, associate superintendent of business services told the school board.
Coles said since the mistake is being corrected, it won’t affect the district’s budget or operations.
“If we didn’t receive the $5.7 million, we would have had to have gone to internal borrowing from our working cash fund very soon, which wouldn’t have been good,” he said.
Wauconda Township Supervisor Glenn Swanson said he’s been hearing from residents for months.
“When the tax bills came out my phone started to ring,” he said. “I knew something was going on.”
Under a deferred payment plan authorized by the county board in May, half the total of any tax bill, including the revised District 118 bills, has to be paid by Sept. 8. The second half is due Nov. 9 with no added penalties or interest.
Martini said taxpayers already are under financial pressure.
“How are you going to handle this?” she said of the revised bill amount. “You can’t pull a rabbit out of your hat. I feel sorry for the taxpayers on this one.”
Coles, who has served as superintendent 17 years, says a similar mistake on the other side of the spectrum happened early in his career.
“It was a different set of people but it was the same office,” he said. “They misapplied the rate and overtaxed them.” The error was corrected on bills issued the following year, he said.