OREGON – A measure that could reduce the amount of real estate taxes property owners pay to local school districts will be decided Tuesday by Ogle County voters.
A referendum on the ballot asks voters if they wish to approve a 1 percentage point county-wide sales tax increase, proceeds from which will go to schools.
The money can be used only for school facilities, and would reduce the tax burden on property owners, Oregon Superintendent Tom Mahoney said.
“Our board committed to abating property taxes with the revenues from this,” he said. “Of the revenue generated, about a third would be used to abate taxes, which would lower the responsibility of taxpayers. Improvements would come from the other two-thirds so that we won’t be incurring debt.”
Mahoney said the one-third would be used to pay down the debt from the district’s Health & Life Safety projects.
The Polo and Forrestville Valley school boards have made similar commitments as to how the money will be spent.
Mount Morris resident Jerry Stauffer, however, sees the proposed measure as another way to let the cash-strapped state of Illinois off the hook for its share of the cost of educating students.
“The state is required by law to pay for a portion of education,” Stauffer said. “My issue with the sales tax is that the state continues to raise our taxes and shift the burden of schools to taxpayers.”
Stauffer said he is also concerned that citizens cannot bear a greater tax burden.
“I think our overall economy is too fragile to add more sales tax,” he said. “If we add a sales tax, I’d rather see it go to the village than to schools. They need the money, too.”
Getting the referendum on the ballot required the approval of the school boards representing the majority of students in the county.
While most boards gave it the nod, Byron, Rochelle Elementary District, and Rochelle Township High School District did not.
RTHS Superintendent Jamie Craven said the board there was concerned about its citizens’ pocketbooks.
“Our board just simply does not support any new taxes in these economic times,” he said. “It’s a regressive tax and it will have a greater impact on low income families.”
Craven said a secondary reason is that the district has no immediate construction needs as some other districts have.
If the sales tax is approved, school districts in Ogle County will split an estimated $2.6 million per year, with their share based on their enrollment.
According to state law, school districts can use the money only for projects related to facilities, including new facilities, additions and renovations, land acquisition, ongoing maintenance, architectural planning, durable equipment (non-moveable items), fire prevention and life safety, disabled access and security, energy efficiency, parking lots, demolition, and roof repairs.
If the sales tax passes, the school districts will receive the first checks about 4 months later.
The sales tax would be charged on retail purchases except for cars, trucks, and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), boats and recreational vehicles (RVs), mobile homes, unprepared food, drugs (including over-the counter, and vitamins), farm equipment and parts, and farm inputs.
How the money would be split
Ogle County school districts and their share of the projected sales tax increase, based on their enrollment:
Rochelle High School $230,531
Forrestville Valley $182,538
Rochelle Elementary $481,639