Local school district considers raising property taxes to pay for misspent funds

HERRIN, IL — A local school district misspent millions, and now the taxpayers may have to foot the bill. The question is: How did this happen?

School districts use a 1% sales tax for school projects. The Herrin School District in Illinois used the money to refinance old bonds and abate taxes for taxpayers. They were later sued, and now could have to pay the district back around $2.5 million — even though what they did is legal now.

“What they wanted to do to help people, the courts are saying we shouldn’t be doing that,” said Superintendent Terry Ryker.

The Herrin School District is taking heat for using money to refinance old bonds and lower taxes.

“They weren’t misusing the money. They were trying to help people in the community, and now I guess that’s coming back to haunt them,” said Ryker.

He said instead of abating the money, they should have put it into a capital development fund. Now they are waiting to hear back from the courts to see if they will have to reimburse that fund. That’s why they are exploring different options to pay back the money, including raising property taxes.

“On a $100,000 home it would be around $70 a year if we spread it out over eight years,” said Ryker,

Neighbors were split on the issue.

“The county, the city, and the school every year raises our property taxes, and we can’t afford it anymore. Why not look somewhere else for your tax money,”  said neighbors Rebecca and Dwayne.

“What they did, if it was inappropriate, if they caught it and it gets paid back, that’s good. If taxpayers have to help out a little bit, as long as it goes back to the community, I’m gravy with it,” said neighbor Edward Keller.

There is another option. The school board could vote to to take the money out of another fund, but the superintendent said that could impact programs.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to deal with this and possibly set back some of the things we want to do to improve the educational system here,” said Ryker.

Because the students are their top priority.

Ryker said they do have the lowest school tax rate in the county. If they do have to raise it, they will be the second lowest in the county. The district’s legal counsel did give approval to use the money for the bonds. The superintendent said other districts had been doing that, too.