By Zachary Daum
Mascoutah residents recently received notice of a meeting set for December 19, 2023, addressing proposed property tax increases for Mascoutah Community Unit School District No. 19. The estimated 21% increase in total property taxes for 2023 has brought about concern, especially when compared to neighboring Lebanon’s proposed 9.32% increase and O’Fallon’s 7.741% increase. However, the 21% property tax increase does not mean a total 21% increase in property taxes for residents.
Superintendent Dr. Dave Deets and Director of Business Operations Dr. Brandon Taylor provided valuable insights into why this specific figure was chosen. Dr. Taylor began by explaining the intricacies of the taxing process, likening it to a percentage in reverse. He described the school district and the town as having a taxing body, and the rules dictate that to raise necessary funds, a specific levy amount, essentially a dollar figure, must be established. The challenge, as Dr. Taylor highlighted, was that they set this levy amount without knowing the Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) beforehand.
Using last year’s EAV as an example, Dr. Taylor noted a rate-setting EAV of $340 million for tax year 2022. The school district, aware of its financial needs, determined a requirement of $9 million from this sum. However, due to constraints, they could only access a certain percentage, specifically 1.84%. The final tax levy is calculated by multiplying $340 million by 1.84%. The catch, as Dr. Taylor emphasized the unpredictability of this process, was designed as a check and balance to keep the taxing bodies transparent.
Dr. Deets joined the conversation, pinpointing the challenge of basing initial numbers on blind estimates. To counteract this uncertainty, the school district intentionally overinflates the initial EAV, anticipating a likely decrease in the tax rate. Currently, the tax rate stands at approximately 4.77%, one of the lowest in St. Clair County. Dr. Deets clarified that the main driver of increased taxes is the rise in home values, a factor only clear after the submission of the request in the spring.
Both Deets and Taylor stressed the importance of accuracy in the tax estimation process. Dr. Deets acknowledged historical attempts to lower tax rates, highlighting the consequences of underestimating financial needs. The unique challenge for Mascoutah, as explained by Dr. Deets, lies in the substantial growth, not just in salaries and benefits but also in personnel.
Deets and Taylor also invited concerned residents to attend the meeting on December 19 at 7 PM at the Mascoutah Administrative Support Center, located at 421 W. Harnett Street. This meeting serves as a platform for the community to gain clarity on the proposed tax increase, voice concerns, and participate in an open dialogue with the school district. By attending, residents can actively contribute to the decision-making process and ensure transparency in addressing the challenges posed by Mascoutah’s growth and evolving economic landscape.