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Panel looking at 1 percent sales tax referendum

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

OREGON – The Oregon School Board is considering placing a 1 percent countywide sales tax referendum on the April 9 ballot.

Other area boards soon may follow suit.

Lee County voters rejected a similar referendum on Nov. 6, but the Dixon School Board is considering putting it back on the April ballot. Whiteside County school superintendents also are considering such a move.

The Illinois County School Facility Tax, approved in 2007, allows school districts to initiate action to put a sales tax before county voters. Thanks to an amendment in 2011, the referendum no longer requires the approval of the county board.

If school boards representing more than half of the county’s student enrollment approve the measure, it will be placed on the ballot. Approval requires a majority of the voters in the county.

“If voters approve it, the money generated goes directly to schools to be used to pay school facility costs,” said Superintendent Tom Mahoney, who first brought the issue to the Oregon School Board in 2008. Members then declined to pursue it.

Declining revenues have prompted school districts to take another look at the measure, Mahoney said. The Meridian School Board already has approved the measure and several other county school boards will be considering it in the next few weeks, he said.

The Oregon School District could use sales tax revenue to pay off the $6 million in health/ life/safety bonds issued in 2010, he said. The district still owes $5.6 million, he said, and property tax revenue is declining.

“Our plan is to pay down our debt,” Mahoney said.

The amount each district receives would be based on enrollment. At 16.5 percent of the county’s estimated 9,370 students, Oregon’s share would amount to about $430,000 a year, he said.

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