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Sales tax would fund school maintenance

Officials hope second time is charm for tax

Facing a 20-percent loss in general state aid and a tough economy, Lee County school officials are asking voters to support the 1 percentage-point sales tax increase for school facilities.

The referendum will be on the ballot Tuesday.

Last November, 58.9 percent of county voters rejected the tax that would bring in an extra $1.4 million annually to Dixon schools, $403,000 to Amboy schools and $270,000 to Ashton-Franklin Center schools, according to estimates provided by the Lee/Ogle Regional Office of Education.

Each district could use its share of money to construct new buildings or renovate existing buildings; tackle safety issues; buy land, and fix roofs, windows and boilers, among other improvements.

A district also could use the money to abate property taxes levied to pay off existing construction bonds.

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.

AFC estimates it needs more than $7 million in renovations to its more than 50-year-old buildings.

Superintendent John Zick said the district evaluated about $5.5 million in renovations at the middle school and $1.75 million at the high school.

"We recently had an architect go through each of our three buildings and provide us with an estimated cost for recommended renovations," Zick said, noting the elementary school came away with little to no recommendations.

Not all of the recommendations are of a high priority, Zick said, but some are. Both the middle and high schools have roof concerns. Walls in the middle school need to be replaced.

"If it doesn't pass, we'll wait until it's a necessity," Zick said. "We'll have to do these projects when they come to a point they'll affect student safety or integrity of the structures.

"We don't want to continue on that path of waiting until you have to do something, we'd rather be a little bit proactive."

Zick said the higher cost items will have to come through property tax increases.

"If you have the sales tax, maybe you can hedge that off so you don't have to go to property taxes," Zick said.

In Amboy, the district plans to use the possible funds for building maintenance, which may include roofing or heating and ventilation.

"We have projects we need to work on," Amboy School Board President Lori Setchell said.

The perception is that all the money will go to Dixon schools for what they are doing, when the need is there just as strongly in the rural schools, she said.

"There's a disconnect with the rural schools, and Dixon," Setchell said. "Unfortunately, it's a hard battle to change those perceptions."

Breakdown of funds

Estimated funds a 1 percentage-point sales tax increase would raise for Lee County school districts:

Dixon $1,300,000

Amboy $403,000

Ashton Franklin Center $270,000

Paw Paw $120,000

Steward $33,000

Nelson $22,000

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