Discovery Center overruns a factor
After opening their 2019 tax statements last month, Osceola residents suffered sticker shock when property taxes in the village increased by 36.9%.
With speculation and concerns rising in the community, The Sun met with village administrator Benjamin Krumenauer in the Discovery Center to provide clarity on this increase.
“There are a lot of things that played into this,” said Krumenauer.
“The big bulk of this is this building. This is a very expensive building, a very nice building, but it wasn’t cheap. Coupled with that was the decision to move forward with it without ensuring how the finances were set. Ultimately the board is responsible for that, but that’s where Mill Pond plays into this as the fundraising arm for the library upstairs. It was never intended for them to do more than that.”
According to Krumenauer, there is some discrepancy between the Osceola Village Board and Mill Pond Learning Foundation Inc. as to where fundraising went, how much was left and who owes what. Though Krumenauer reported that Mill Pond raised over $3 million dollars toward the project. The funding discrepancy between them and the village nearly totals $700,000, which the village had to pay.
Apart from this discrepancy, the anticipated cost of the Discovery Center was “higher than anticipated or hoped for” according to Krumenauer.
“When this process started a decade ago, there were costs, goals and hopes,” he said. “As fundraising efforts began, there was a target of $6 million dollars for the building, but that was a target goal… As other costs came on board, the cost kept going up.”
The total cost for the Discovery Center was roughly $7.5 million dollars after all costs were tallied.
Krumenauer explained that other unforeseen costs were contributing factors to the property tax increase as well including the move and renovation of the Fire Hall and purchase of a partially purchased fire truck with approximately $423,000 still due.
“While it was certainly needed, it wasn’t intended to happen as quickly as it did, so we had to cover part of the cost here,” he said. “We also had a fire truck that was authorized in 2018 that was due, a well project that was due - so there are a lot of things that happened, not just the lack of revenues from this building.”
With continued concerns from the taxpayers, Krumenauer wanted to be clear that the increase was not a permanent and offer a proposed timeline for a decrease in the property taxes.
“This is debt levy, this isn’t general operating levy,” he said. “This was never intended to be a permanent increase. This is to pay off debt related to our obligations. With that, those go up and down as debt is needed, or not needed. So, we’re intending this to stay steady for a few years to help fund these bigger projects, and then as debt starts to decrease [taxes] will go down. Over the next decade, or less, this should go down considerably based on our projections.”
Despite the tension from this decision in the community, Krumenauer made clear that the continued growth of the village would help its taxpayers cope with the recent increase.
“There are a lot of things that are working for the village,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate to see continued growth. Every new property that comes on board helps to spread the tax load. Every new house built, or every property that increases its value helps to soften the burden on everyone else… We’ve seen controlled, thoughtful, comprehensive growth. As more of that thoughtful planning occurs, and that growth happens from it, then the tax burden goes down for everyone else.”
At the end of the interview, Krumenauer made clear that transparency between the village and taxpayers is a priority and encouraged residents to take part in public comment at monthly board meetings.
“I can’t stress enough that communication is key,” Krumenauer said, “Closed meetings won’t happen unless they have to. Every meeting is public and I encourage residents to get here to be a part of this. Help us to help you. We want you to understand what the problems are because divisiveness does not create solution.”