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Campaign for 1-cent sales tax quiet, but still active

Referendum on ballot April 9 for a second time

DIXON – Don't count on any "We are Dixon" billboards this time around. No rallies are planned, and no big advertisement campaigns, either.

Although the campaign is quiet, Lee County voters will decide in a referendum April 9 whether to increase the local sales tax by 1-percentage point for school facilities.

Last November, 58.9 percent of county voters rejected the tax, which would have led to the construction of a $10 million to $15 million sports and activities center in Dixon and building upgrades in other public schools throughout the county.

Funds from the tax would be earmarked for infrastructure, maintenance and building upgrades only.

In its effort to win passage of the referendum, the "We Are Dixon" group spent just short of $8,000 last fall. The group promised to rally again in April.

Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss, who headed the "We are Dixon" effort in November, said the committee has done nothing formal since then and is "sitting back and watching things unfold."

He said the committee could meet with leaders across the county to ask them to support the referendum.

Why the stark contrast in campaign tactics from 5 months ago?

For one, the Dixon Board of Education has chosen not to pursue the sports and activities center in conjunction with the sales tax – at least, not this time around.

The board released a position statement saying that, if voters approve the tax, "the dollars would be used to complete needed work in the buildings and help keep property taxes down."

That does not mean the idea of a sports and activities center is dead.

The board is pursuing land that could lead to a center being built. The next board will determine what to do with the land, which also could be used to build a K-12 campus, Superintendent Michael Juenger said.

Six candidates are vying April 9 for four open seats on the board, with the guarantee of at least one new board member. Board President Tom Balser did not seek re-election.

Balser has said he does not think voters ever will support a sales tax increase to support building facilities.

"Before any future goals could be achieved, whether the goal is a new school or a new activity center, a site to build upon would be needed," Juenger said of the board's interest.

After an impasse was declared in negotiations for a new teachers contract, which led to a strike, the Dixon Education Association attacked the board for its willingness to spend $200,000 from its operations and maintenance fund.

"The strike is over," Langloss said. "Now something needs to be done. The first year, very possibly the board could earmark different improvements. In year two and year three, it can earmark funds for a sports and activities center." 

Carolyn Brechon, who opposes the 1-percentage point sales tax, said she does not want to see the public lose sight of the referendum, because of the impact it could have if it's approved.

"I think the teachers strike took some of the attention away from [the referendum], and it should have been the top priority," Brechon said. “But I'd like people to get out and vote, especially for something this important."

She said she doesn't buy it that funds from the tax would, for very long, be used for maintenance of buildings, and instead might be part of a plan to build a K-12 campus.

"They've said they are going to buy land, but where is that money going to come from?" Brechon asked. "Once they buy land, is it part of a plan to build a campus? And why is that something that's not on an advisory referendum? It should be out there for people to see."

Despite a quieter effort this time, Langloss said "We are Dixon" still supports the sales tax referendum and a sports and activities center.

"The need still is there," Langloss said. "We need to do more for our children. ... This is about a lot more than just sports. Arts, theater, connecting a diverse group of kids ... that's the goal."

After the referendum was defeated in November, Langloss said the measure could take two or three elections to pass in Lee County.

Voter turnout is typically lower for municipal elections. In the last municipal election, Lee County registered a 25.6 percent turnout in the midst of a mayoral race in Dixon.

A similar measure failed by 260 votes in Champaign County in 2008, before it was passed the second time in 2009.

Learn about the issues

Organizing for Grassroots Awareness in Dixon will host an informational session Tuesday on the 1-percentage point sales tax referendum and municipal aggregation at the Lee County Democratic Headquarters, 77 Hennepin Ave.

The discussion will go from 10 a.m. until noon.

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