Taxes, school funding big topics at legislator meeting in Aurora

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Jack Dellorto of Aurora likes to stay informed regarding issues coming out of Springfield.

Jack Dellorto of likes to stay informed regarding issues coming out of Springfield.

"I want to learn more about local taxes as well as the state budget, and I'm wondering why all the parties involved can't work together," Dellorto said. "I want to learn more about how this all works."

A meeting in Aurora offered an opportunity to explore some of the critical issues affecting Illinois citizens as state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) held a three-hour informational meeting called "What Is Really Happening In Springfield?" at Waubonsie Valley High School Saturday.

Kifowit, along with state Sen. (D-Aurora), served as moderators and facilitators of the event, which included speakers like Ralph Martire, representing the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability; Township Assessor Warren Dixon, who spoke about property taxes, and representatives from Advance Illinois, who focused on education issues.

Kifowit said the effort was designed to increase communication "beyond an email or Facebook posting."

"I get a lot of questions about various things and wanted to give people the chance to talk with the experts and get more information than something you can post on social media," she said. "The bottom line is there are a lot of questions out there about what is going on, and this hopefully is a better way to address some of those issues."

Dixon provided an overview of taxing issues involving commercial, industrial and residential components and said that funding from some sources has dropped.

"Back in 2007, 40 percent of the (estimated assessed value) in Illinois was commercial, and today, that has dropped to 33 percent," Dixon said. "One of the issues that continues in Springfield is how economically based is Illinois and if it is pro-business."

School funding is also an issue, Dixon said, as the Chicago Public School system continues to receive more state aid than places in the Fox Valley area, which forces more of a burden on local taxpayers.

"School funding, on average, makes up about 60 percent of the tax bill statewide and here in this area around Naperville and Aurora, it's more like 73 percent," Dixon said. "The state clearly has direct impact on what people pay locally."

Ginger Ostro, executive director of Advance Illinois, a non-profit education advocacy group, spoke about education and said Illinois continues to provide inequitable funding for its schools.

"For every dollar spent in more affluent communities, only about 81 cents goes to low-income schools and communities, which means the cycle there never changes," Ostro said. "The facts are we don't invest money in the neediest students. We need to continue to work for adequate and equitable funding."

Kristin Eccles, a Realtor in Naperville, said she wanted to learn more about property taxes and how they are assessed in the area as her clients "ask all the time" about the topic.

"People continue to want to sell their homes because the taxes are too high, and I feel I need to get more educated about this as well as how the state budget affects all of this," Eccles said. "I've been working in this field for three years, and while questions about taxes have remained the same, we've seen more corporations leaving which puts more of a burden on the residents and it's become a vicious circle."

Holmes noted Saturday's issues "were complex topics" and it was important to have open discussions about them.

"The current educational funding bill as well as the property taxes and budget are all important," she said. "This is all about providing knowledge as well as transparency about what we're doing."

David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News

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