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Sales tax question to return to ballot?

Voters in Ogle County likely will decide in April whether they are willing to pay a 1 percent increase in sales tax to help bolster school coffers.

Whether a referendum for the sales tax makes it on the April 9 ballot hinges on tonight’s decision of the Forrestville Valley School Board, and Superintendent Lowell Taylor said Tuesday that he expects the board to vote in favor.

“The board approved this in 2008, and the opinion hasn’t changed,” Taylor said.

The measure did not receive enough support from school boards in the county then to be placed on the ballot.

This time, however, with decreased real estate tax revenues from dwindling property values, most school boards in the county have approved putting the sales tax referendum before voters.

For the referendum to get on the ballot, boards representing a majority of the county’s enrollment must approve it.

Ogle County has 9,601 students, a majority is 4,801.Five districts – Oregon, Polo, Meridian, Creston, Eswood, and Kings – with 4,440 students have approved the referendum.

The Forrestville Valley Schools Board represents 915 students in Forreston and German Valley, which will give the majority needed.

Byron and the two Rochelle districts have a combined enrollment of 4,246.

The Oregon and Polo Schools Boards both approved the measure Monday night; the Rochelle Township High School Board rejected it. 

The other boards made their decisions earlier this month. Byron and Rochelle Elementary also are not in favor of the tax.

“The sales tax is a very good mechanism to lighten the load on taxpayers,” Taylor said. “It’s still a tax, but most of it comes from people passing through the county, mainly in the Rochelle area.”

Rochelle High Superintendent Richard J. Craven said the board there was reluctant to impose a new tax during an economic downturn.

“The conversation among board members was that this just isn’t the time to be asking the taxpayers to take on any new taxes,” he said.

Board members also were concerned about how the money would be dispersed.

The revenue is split among the schools based on their enrollment.

Oregon has about 16.5 percent of the total county enrollment, and so would get 16.5 percent of the sales tax collected.

About half the sales tax collected in Ogle County is generated in Rochelle, but its two school districts together have only about 27 percent of the county’s total enrollment, Craven said. 

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