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Voters again reject school sales tax

For the fourth time in 6 years, voters in Whiteside County are telling school officials to look elsewhere for money to fix their districts’ aging buildings and infrastructure.

According to Tuesday night’s unofficial vote tallies, the school facilities tax, which would have raised the countywide sales tax on certain items by 1 percentage point, went down in defeat, 3,183-2,347.

That’s 57.6 percent voting “No, thanks,” to 42.4 percent voting “Yes,” a difference of 836 votes.

Voters in Carroll County sent the same message, although not as loudly: They nixed the measure by a mere 100 votes, 1,460-1,360, or 51.7 percent to 48.2 percent.

A simple majority of votes was needed for the initiative to pass.

This was the second time the measure had made the ballot in Carroll County. It first was defeated in April 2011.

Milledgeville Superintendent Tim Schurman called the outcome disappointing, and said it’s a little too soon to consider making a third run at its passage.

“I’m disappointed that it failed, but you’ve got to respect the vote and move forward,” he said.

In Whiteside County, the tax hike would have garnered about $4.3 million a year that would have been divided among its 10 school districts, based on enrollment. Carroll County would have split about $1.1 million among its three districts.

Supporters said the money is needed to offset declining state aid and to reduce property taxes. The beauty of the sales tax hike, they said, is that it would be paid by anyone buying goods in the county, not just local property owners.

Most districts also vowed to use the money to pay off debt, which would lower property taxes and save money by reducing the need for loans, and/or the length of time it takes to retire loans, thereby saving in interest payments.

The question had been defeated by Whiteside County voters three previous times, but until Tuesday night had gained support each time – 42 percent in November 2008, 45 percent in April 2009, and 46 percent in April.

The new tax would have come on top of the existing 6.75 percent state/local sales tax and would have added $10 in tax for every $1,000 spent on certain items, such as fuel, restaurant meals, and prepared food.

By law, the money could be used only for capital facilities projects – new facilities, additions and renovations, land acquisition, ongoing maintenance, architectural planning, durable equipment (nonmoveable items), fire prevention and life safety, disabled access and security, energy efficiency, parking lots, demolition, and roof repairs and to pay off existing facilities bonds – 20-year loans taken out for such purposes.

The tax revenue could not be used to pay for salaries or benefits, supplies, operating expenses, buses, and the like.

The new tax would have been charged on retail purchases except for cars, trucks, and all-terrain vehicles, boats and recreational vehicles, mobile homes, groceries, drugs (including over the counter medications and vitamins), farm equipment and parts, and farm inputs.

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