Warrenville asks Dist. 203 to drop lawsuit
Eight years and $803,000 later, Warrenville officials have had enough. Tuesday night they took their message to the Naperville school district that has been suing them for nearly eight years.
Warrenville Mayor David Brummel and elected officials from several Warrenville taxing bodies filled Naperville Unit District 203's meeting room Tuesday night, asking the school board to drop a lawsuit the district filed against those bodies in March 2005.
Brummel said the total legal fees for all parties concerned stood at $803,000 as recently as late November.
"And the meter keeps ticking on all of the taxing districts," he said. Included in that figure are $446,153 of District 203's own legal expenses,
"We didn't come here tonight to poke them in the eye. We came here tonight to ask them to take a closer look at whether this suit is a good use of taxpayer dollars," Brummel said. "A lot has changed in eight years. Early on the focus was on surplus funds at the end of the TIF and how much each taxing body was going to get. Now the focus, because there are no funds left, should be on the benefit to the taxpayer, which is substantial moving forward."
The school district filed the suit in 2005, contending that the taxing bodies, including the city of Warrenville, Wheaton-Warrenville District 200, the Warrenville Fire Protection District, Warrenville Library District and the Warrenville Park District, benefited from funds improperly directed to them from the Cantera tax increment financing district.
"Other taxing bodies got the benefits from the TIF, but we don't know the extent that money for the Cantera TIF has been used for by the village," said District 203 Assistant Superintendent for Finance Dave Zager. "The law specifies what TIF dollars can be used for because it's our taxpayers that are paying it."
Warrenville officials said that despite there not even being a reference to Warrenville on the school district's website, the Naperville School District's boundaries include a portion of the Cantera Development in Warrenville. That area is primarily commercial with no residential properties, so the Naperville School District experiences no expenses from the Warrenville properties because no Warrenville children attend their schools.
"The district continues to benefit financially from Warrenville's very successful Cantera TIF development through increased property values and tax revenue," said Warrenville City Administrator John Coakley. "District 203 has reaped a financial windfall in excess of $9 million in new property tax revenue since 2009 and will continue to receive more than $3 million annually in the future."
Zager, however, said the fact that the TIF district does not house any students shouldn't mean the district gets cut out of the fund.
"We've got 18 percent of our EAV that pays property tax and they don't have any students either, so I don't see how that holds water," Zager said.
The Cantera TIF was formed in 1986 and lasted for 23 years, during which time a certain amount of property taxes were used to fund infrastructure improvements in the area.
When the TIF expired in 2009, Coakley said, the area within District 203's boundaries saw an increase in property values that yielded the district an additional $3.3 million yearly."
"That land was a quarry with a value of $4 million," Coakley said. "We filled it in, built on it and it now has an EAV of $160 million and everyone is benefiting from it."
Brummel said he hoped his visit would "get some conversation going" about the district dropping the suit. District President Mike Jaensch, however, wasn't so sure his visit would be the catalyst.
"I don't know. I think the court date on Thursday will probably stimulate more discussion than grandstanding, but it's still under litigation," Jaensch said. "We take it as we comes and do what is best for the taxpayers of our school district."