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Schools might ask again for sales tax

Measure has failed three previous times

ROCK FALLS – Whiteside County is within striking distance of approving a 1 percent sales tax to fund public school facilities. Or at least that’s the way officials see it. 

The question has gone before voters three times, gaining support each time – 42 percent in November 2008, 45 percent in April 2009, and 46 percent this past April.

The tax has fared much worse elsewhere. In April, only a quarter of Lee County voters and a third of Ogle County voters backed it.

Now, Whiteside County’s school boards are considering whether to put the measure on the March 18 ballot. On Wednesday, the boards for at least four districts – Sterling, Rock Falls High School, Montmorency and East Coloma-Nelson – are expected to vote on a new referendum.

Alex Moore, principal of Montmorency School, said his district’s officials are recommending the 1 percent tax for the March ballot. Its passage, he said, would allow the district to reduce property taxes.

Others also are making that promise. 

“The plan is to inform the public a little better this time about what school districts are able to offer if the 1 percent tax goes through,” Moore said.

Dan Arickx, superintendent of the Rock Falls Elementary district, said his board recently agreed to put the issue on the ballot again.

If voters had passed the sales tax increase in April, he said, the district would have eliminated its property tax dedicated to correcting health, life and safety issues in buildings. Overall, that would amount to a 14 percent reduction in Rock Falls Elementary’s property tax bill.

With the sales tax, each public school district would receive a share of the annual county sales tax revenue based on its proportion of overall county enrollment.

The Rock Falls Elementary district makes up about 13 percent of overall enrollment, but only 4 percent of the tax base, Arickx said.

“It’s a win-win for us, and it creates jobs,” he said. “If it passes, property taxes would go down – guaranteed.”

At first, the Rock Falls district would use the money to pay off bonds that paid for previous health-life-safety projects, Arickx said. Then it could be spent on new roofs for school buildings, he said.

“Some of our roofs are easily 20-plus years old, and they have 15-year lifespans. That’s a future health-life-safety project we’ll have to do,” he said. “We have people who want to get air conditioning in buildings. That’s extremely expensive. The state won’t allow that to be done with health-life-safety money. With the 1 percent sales tax, the district could.”

The 1 percent tax money could be used to construct new buildings, and to add on to or renovate existing buildings; to make facilities handicapped accessible; and to repair parking lots and sidewalks, aging roofs and boilers, among other improvements.

To be placed on the ballot, the measure needs the support of school boards representing a majority of students in the county.

Ballot bound?

A number of school boards will vote Wednesday on a measure to place a 1 percent sales tax on the March 18 ballot:

• Sterling: 7 p.m., Sterling High School library, 1608 Fourth Ave.

• Rock Falls High: 6:45 p.m., Room 137 at Rock Falls High School, 101 12th Ave.

• East Coloma-Nelson: 7 p.m., East Coloma-Nelson School, 1602 Dixon Road.

• Montmorency: 6:30 p.m., band room, Montmorency School, 9415 Hoover Road.

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