Winthrop Harbor Tax Opponents Speak Out
Suit threat irks tax foes
By Ralph Zahorik
Attorneys for conservative groups responded with outrage and indignation Friday over threats of lawsuits from the Winthrop Harbor School Board.
The board, in a press release and in attorneys’ letters to several organizations and individuals, warned that legal action would be taken if they did not stop making certain claims, in fliers and in automated telephone calls, about Tuesday’s school tax referendum.
Claims of property taxes rising more than double the amount stated by school officials are “false” and “defamatory,” the school statement said.
Citizens for Reasonable and Fair Taxes (CRAFT), a group based in Harvard, “is well within its First Amendment rights to inform taxpayers” about its conclusion that property taxes in Winthrop Harbor will rise 82. 4 cents per $100 valuation, not 39 cents as stated by school and Lake County tax extension officials, said Bruno Behrend, of River Forest, an attorney representing the group, in a statement.
“CRAFT specifically states that they are not accusing (nor did they intend to accuse) the district and/or its representatives of intentional misrepresentation,” he said. “They are merely pointing out that the operation of Illinois tax laws, combined with the possible future actions of district management, may result in more taxes being collected than voters may have been led to believe by the referendum language.”
“These folks, school officials, are throwing a lot of mud at these concerned taxpayers,” said Doug Ibendahl, an attorney for Family Tax Network in Carpentersville, a group that has been placing anti-Winthrop Harbor school vote statements on its Web site, Champion.org.
“Taxpayers can say a lot of things about their government but having the government hire lawyers to make defamatory statements about taxpayers is inflammatory,” Ibendahl said.
Wayne Wasylko, director of the Lake County Clerk’s Tax Extension and Redemption Department, also was blasted. “He’s using figures in a despicable way,” Ibendahl said. “He should go back to school or shut up about it.”
Wasylko, in a Sept. 29 letter addressed to Winthrop Harbor residents, wrote that the tax increase, if a approved, will amount to 39 cents per $100 assessed valuation, not the 82.4 cents claimed by the anti-tax groups.
“When these people say it’s false (statements about the alleged 82.4-cent increase) they’re going against the statements of the State Board of Education,” said Jack Roeser of Barrington, president of the network.
Raymond True of Libertyville, head of the Republican Assembly of Lake County, a conservative group, said the threats of lawsuits against himself and his organization using school funds, “violate ethics” laws.
“You can’t spend taxpayer money to take a partisan position on an issue, to chill the other side of the referendum,” he said.
Behrend said CRAFT stands by its charge that the Winthrop Harbor school tax rate could rise to 82.4 cents if voters approve the measure.
“The ambiguity of the Illinois property tax collection system has allowed taxing districts (school districts in particular) to utilize various loopholes to collect much higher taxes than taxpayers believed they were approving,” he said. “While voters are more aware of these loopholes, legislation closing them has not been passed, and it remains possible for districts to take advantage of them.”
Winthrop Harbor School Superintendent James Tenbusch said the vocal opponents of the district’s referendum “are against all taxes. They are anti-public school zealots. Thy drop their dirty bomb and walk away. They have no vested interest in our schools like the people in our community do.”
He said school district residents “are responding to our message. We’re staying ahead of the debate and have taken away all (the anti-tax groups’) arguments.”
The last statement by Superintendent James Tenbusch is laughable. They aren’t staying ahead of the arguments. They are trying to stop anyone from opposing them. That is not a sign of strength but of weakness. It is plain and simple intimidation.
I see the district finally placed it’s budget online. This has been done since Wednesday. By law they are supposed to have it online.
Illinois School Code Section 17-1.2
Illinois School Code Section 34-43a
What took them so long to do this? What were they trying to hide before? Has anything been chaged in this version since it was put up so late? Why are they waiting and then scrambling to answer questions once they are forced to do so? These are troubling signs. They me to the conclusion that there are things that must be hidden. What are those things? What questions have not been asked to force the district to answer? What else is being hidden from the voters?