Decatur Township approves property tax increase

Decatur Twp. Superintendent Matt Prusiecki
Decatur Township has approved a local property tax increase to fund its cash-strapped school transportation program. School officials say the tax increase will cost taxpayers about $7 a month. 

The vote was 64-36 with 10 of 16 precincts reporting.
"We are grateful that the residents of Decatur Township decided to invest in our schools, our children and our community by approving this referendum," said Dr. Matthew Prusiecki, Superintendent of the MSD of Decatur Township. "We asked the community to choose between making drastic cuts to balance the budget, or approving this additional property tax. Today, Decatur Township residents have empowered us to continue providing the high quality education and services that we are proud to deliver and that this community deserves."

School officials said the situation was that serious. If the current referendum did not pass, one school that houses a few hundred preschoolers and kindergartners would have been the first to get chopped.

The district faced a $2.5-million annual budget shortfall and will lose $7.5 million to property tax caps in 2014. That lost revenue threatened Liberty Early Elementary School, which focuses on providing individualized attention to children when they need it most, giving them the right start for elementary school.  It also meant the possible elimination of teachers at other schools, increasing class sizes, cutting school programs and, down the line, even cutting the school transportation program.

"This wasn't anything or anyone's fault," Prusiecki said. "This is just the course of events that have taken place and the lack of revenue that has come in through property tax caps. Our goal is to educate the community that we will provide the best educational opportunity possible.  We're asking the community to invest in the community and our kids or allow us to move forward and cut accordingly."

Taxpayers and voters were mixed, although the tax increase was approved.

"Maybe I would vote for that because they have lowered my property tax.  But I don't like anything that costs more money, just like anyone else," said Jerry, who didn't provide his last name. "But in this case, it's okay.  I'm not going to be around much longer.  I'm 90-plus, so it isn't going to hit me much."

By state law, if a school district wants to cut bus transportation, the district must provide a three-year notice.  Decatur Township Schools voted and issued that notice in February.  That starts the clock ticking, but it also means that potential option of saving money is still down the road.