The anti-referendum lawsuit against Wilmette School District 39 won’t go away, at least not yet.
Wilmette resident Herb Sorock and his co-litigant, the Oak Park-based anti-tax group Taxpayers United of America, have filed an appeal in Cook County Appellate Court against the June 23 dismissal of their lawsuit by Judge Rita M. Novak. That suit sought to overturn the successful April 5 tax rate-hike referendum proposal passed by District 39 voters.
The action will do nothing but cost taxpayers more money, district officials said last week. They set a July 18 special closed board meeting, ahead of the regular monthly meeting, to discuss the latest legal round.
“The district has already spent $32,000 of taxpayer money successfully defending this case,” board president Karen Donnan said in an official statement July 14. “This appeal means that we are forced to spend additional dollars that should be spent on the education of children in our community.”
In a July 12 news release, Taxpayers United attorney Andrew Spiegel said he was seeking to consolidate the District 39 suit and a similar one the organization filed, in conjunction with a local taxpayer, in Oak Park School District 97.
The Oak Park lawsuit was also thrown out of court, on July 1.
Spiegel said he is confident both decisions will be overturned on appeal, because both Novak and the judge hearing the group’s Oak Park suit failed to consider relevant sections of the Illinois property tax code when making their decisions.
On April 5, District 39 taxpayers approved, by a 63 percent margin, a proposal allowing for a 35 cent tax-rate hike. Sorock and Taxpayers United sued the district in May, charging that the referendum question placed on the ballot by the district improperly failed to include the state multiplier, thus understating the amount of money taxpayers would have to pay. They claimed the district violated sections of the Illinois tax code by not including information on the multiplier, also known as the equalizer. They also asked Novak to approve a preliminary injunction that would prevent the district from collecting the new taxes generated by the successful rate increase.
When Novak dismissed the suit, however, she agreed with district attorneys who argued that code language that requires the equalizer be kept out of ballot questions essentially trumps other sections in the code that appear to require its inclusion.
Last week, Donnan said the appeal was a continuation of attempts to “overturn the will of our voters.” She also repeated the message district officials have made public even before the referendum passed. The district always acknowledged the ballot’s confusing language, and worked hard to ensure that voters knew how much new tax revenue the district would collect — an amount less than that contained in the ballot question.