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Voters reject school sales tax a third time

Whiteside County school districts with leaking roofs, crumbling pavement, and aging fixtures will continue to rely on property taxpayers to foot the oftentimes hefty bills to improve their buildings.

Voters Tuesday rejected a request for a 1 percentage-point sales tax increase for school facilities, 4,253 to 3,599, or 54.2 percent to 45.8 percent.

“People see the word ‘tax,’” Rock Falls Elementary School District Superintendent Dan Arickx said. “They don’t see the words ‘lower property taxes.’ And it scares them off. It’s change. And change is always feared.”

If voters had approved the increase, each school district would have gotten a proportion of the annual county sales tax revenue based on its share of overall county enrollment, regardless of whether the district supported the measure.

The Sterling schools would have received more than $1.5 million a year. The Morrison schools would have gotten more than $550,000. Rock Falls High School, one of the two districts that did not support the referendum, would have received almost $300,000.

Each district could have used its share of money to construct new buildings or add on to or renovate existing buildings; make facilities handicapped accessible; or repair parking lots and sidewalks, aging roofs and boilers, among other improvements.

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

Many school districts in Whiteside County planned to use the money for both facilities improvements and property tax relief.

Because voters again denied the increase, as they have twice before, districts will continue to issue Health/Life Safety bonds and levy property taxes to pay for building improvements.

“If that’s what people want to do...” Arickx said. “And in lower-income areas, if they want to pay the higher rates to do that ... then that’s what they want to do.”

Some district officials anticipate again pushing for the sales tax in the next election.

“We’ll continue to look at all options to provide a quality education,” Morrison Superintendent Suellen Girard said. “If we don’t provide a top-quality educational system, we won’t draw employers here, we won’t draw people who want to live here. For Whiteside County to be a growing, thriving county, we must continue to provide a quality education.”

Officials realize they still have a challenge ahead of them, though. Voters have denied the sales tax increase three times. Lee County voters, who blasted a similar measure 73 percent to 27 percent Tuesday, have turned it down twice.

Ogle County voters also rejected the tax, 6,770 to 3,626.

“I don’t think the education has gotten out there yet,” Arickx said. “We’re technically getting closer, though.”

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