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District 13 pushes first sales tax domino

Board approves resolution to place measure on ballot

ROCK FALLS – The first domino has fallen.

The Rock Falls Elementary School Board on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution to place a request for a 1 percent sales tax increase on the ballot in April.

It is the first of several boards in Whiteside County expected to back the measure.

Superintendent Dan Arickx sold the sales tax as an opportunity to lower property taxes and improve school facilities.

The district is estimated to receive nearly $550,000 in annual county sales tax revenue, he said. About $236,000 would replace the money currently levied to pay off existing Health/Life Safety bonds, while about $314,000 could pay for building upgrades, he said.

Arickx presented two scenarios: money saved on property taxes and additional money spent because of a sales tax hike.

A district resident with a home assessed at $96,000 would save $105.60 a year in property taxes, if the district uses the sales tax revenue to pay off its bonds, he said.

A district resident who spends $200 a week in taxable items, such as clothing, home electronics and gasoline, would spend an additional $104 a year in sales tax, he said.

“So, the question is: Do you want to pay it all at once or do you want to pay it 1 percent at a time?” Arickx said.

One board member called it “a push;” district residents would save money in one place, but spend more money in another, he said.

Arickx disagreed.

“It’s not a push,” he said. “It’s not equal. … It’s not just the people within our boundaries paying every single cent… It’s a lot of people paying and giving us extra.”

Board member Troy Ebenezer said the district will need to persuade voters to support the tax hike.

“It’s all about how you present it,” he said. “Our biggest hurdle is going to be getting people to understand, because all they’re going to see is ‘tax.’”

The East Coloma, Morrison and Sterling school boards could pass similar resolutions next week. East Coloma and Morrison will vote Dec. 18, and Sterling will vote Dec. 19.

School boards representing more than 50 percent of the students in the county must adopt resolutions to support a sales tax increase by Jan. 22 for a request to appear on the ballot in April.

Rock Falls, with its 13 percent of the enrollment in the county, puts those in favor of a tax increase on good footing.

East Coloma and Morrison, with their 2.8 percent and 13.2 percent of students, respectively, would tip the scales toward a ballot measure; the superintendents of both districts expect their school boards to pass resolutions.

Sterling, with its 36 percent of the enrollment in the county, almost certainly would need to pass a resolution to guarantee the request goes before voters.

If a sales tax increase appears on the ballot in April, and if voters approve it, each school district would get a proportion of the annual county sales tax revenue based on its share of enrollment, regardless of whether the district supported the measure.

Whiteside County school officials have tried twice in the past 4 years to pass a tax increase. The last time, in April 2010, voters denied the referendum, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Also Wednesday, the board:

n Approved a tax levy of $1.85 million.

n Hired Candy Parsons as a bus supervisor at Riverdale School effective Dec. 3. Parsons, an early-childhood special education teacher, will receive a stipend for her additional duties.

n Approved the Rising Star school improvement plans, which must be implemented because the district did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward national benchmarks for the second year in a row.

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