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Sales tax sparks lively debate

Supporters, opponents disagree on need for sports complex

STERLING – Carolyn Brechon called the proposed Dixon sports complex “frosting on the cake.”

To that, Josh Albrecht replied, “I don’t know if I’d ever eat a cake without frosting.”

For just short of an hour Monday, both presented contrasting views regarding the 1 percent sales tax proposal for Lee County in a live four-person debate hosted by Sauk Valley Media.

Li Arellano, a Dixon businessman and former candidate for 90th District state representative, joined Brechon in arguing against the referendum, while Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss, leader of the “We Are Dixon” effort, teamed up with Albrecht in favor.

As required by state law, if passed on Tuesday, money from the 1 percent sales tax would pay for school construction projects and facility improvements.

Dixon’s school board has agreed to build a $10 million to $15 million sports complex with its share, estimated to be $1.2 million.

It will cost about $200,000 a year to run, officials say.

Brechon, a former Dixon school district board member, questions the need for a sports complex. What happens when state school aid drops even further, and schools need to go to the voters for other items, she wondered.

“I never was a proponent of the sports complex,” she said. “I admire those school districts that are looking at what’s necessary.”

Albrecht, Dixon Main Street’s executive director, said a sports facility is the kind of project that will make Dixon a progressive community, more than once calling it a quality-of-life issue. Not only youth sports, but also other extracurricular activities and seniors will utilize the facility, he said.

“You need that frosting to push things forward, to make your community dynamic,” Albrecht said. “... This is only one piece of the puzzle putting together the Dixon school district and making it complete.”

Arellano, owner of Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, conceded that a sports complex would be a great attraction for Dixon but disagreed with raising taxes to fund it. He said raising local sales taxes, even a penny increase on each dollar, was bailing the state out of its responsibility to fund schools.

“I fear the incremental damage to small businesses and families,” Arellano said. “This is a permanent tax increase. Nickels and quarters add up.”

Moderators asked what happens next when the sports facility is paid off. Will there be more projects? Will the tax be retired?

“Projects at our schools are not going to go away,” Langloss said. “That money will be needed for all different projects. The point is that the money will be there when it’s needed.”

Arellano said he doesn’t like it when he hears “We’ll find things to spend the money on.”

Another question asked: How can a project like this can come together without a tax increase?

“Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways,” Albrecht said, adding that other routes involve federal or state grants or donations.

Arellano said a sports facility would be a more fitting project for the park district.

Much of the sales tax revenue raised each year will come from those passing through Dixon, and the complex will bring $2.5 million to the local economy each year, Langloss said.

As the debate jumped around from the impact of tax increases to families and businesses, to the boost a sports facility could give to the community, the question came back to whether it was the appropriate project at this time.

“I feel it’s absolutely necessary,” Langloss concluded. “We want to provide our community with the same opportunities as Geneseo, Oregon, Byron and DeKalb. ... I feel if we don’t do this now, we’re going to be talking about it in another 20 years.”

“Like I said, I like the building, but they are selling it as something we need badly,” Arellano said. “I don’t see it. Not to raise taxes.”

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