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Whiteside County schools again pursue sales tax hike

Rock Falls boards approve resolutions

Published: Thursday, June 19, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

ROCK FALLS – For the fourth time in 7 years, Whiteside County school districts are looking to get a 1-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot.

The tax, known as the County School Facility Sales Tax, was instituted by state law in 2007 as a means of shifting the burden of school funding away from property taxpayers.

The boards at two of the counties’ nine districts on Wednesday voted for resolutions to put the facility sales tax on the Nov. 4 ballot. That would bump the county sales tax from 6.75 percent to 7.75 percent. The boards at Rock Falls Township High School District 301, and Rock Falls Elementary District 13 voted in favor of seeking the tax increase.

The money from the tax can be used only for maintaining, renovating and upgrading existing school buildings, new construction projects, or paying off bonds taken out for buildings and maintenance purposes.

The tax is not assessed for groceries, medication, services, farm equipment, cars, trucks, ATVs, boats, RVs, and mobile homes.

Supporters of the tax argue that retiring buildings bonds saves money for the county’s property taxpayers. The Rock Falls Elementary district makes that promise, if the sales tax increase passes.

“The district guarantees that, if the sales tax increase passes, the Health/Life Safety levy will be abated,” said Dan Arickx, Rock Falls Elementary superintendent. “The whole idea of this tax is to lower property taxes.”

Arickx says that translates to savings of 41 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation, given the HLS levy would be reduced from 3.09 to 2.68 per $100 of EAV, a savings of 13.3 percent.

The superintendents of each district can put the sales tax resolution before its board to determine whether they support putting the measure on the next ballot.

The other districts are Sterling, Erie, River Bend, Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico, Morrison, East Coloma-Nelson, and Montmorency.

If there is enough support, the county’s regional superintendent would certify the resolution to the county clerk to be put on the ballot.

“We just need a simple majority of the boards on the resolution,” said Bob Sondgeroth, Whiteside County regional schools superintendent. “If the supporters of the resolution make up 51 percent of the county’s total students, that will do it.”

Schools are not obligated to put the resolution to their boards for a vote. If the measure passes, however, all schools benefit, regardless of whether they voted.

“One year, all but Erie voted on the resolution,” Sondgeroth said. “Several districts will be voting at their June meetings.”

Whiteside County voters last year shot down the request for a 1-cent sales tax increase for school facilities by a vote of 4,253 to 3,599, or 54.2 percent to 45.8 percent.

The superintendents hope that a November election will help their cause, because voter turnout tends to be better than in April. The key, they say, lies in educating the public.

“I don’t think people understand what the tax is and how it benefits property owners,” said Ron McCord, Rock Falls High School superintendent. “If this is put on the ballot, we will provide as much information as possible to residents on the benefits and cost.”

The Rock Falls High School district would use the approximately $340,000 generated by the tax increase for general maintenance and upkeep, McCord said. The amount of money each school gets from the tax is based on enrollment.

Officials are challenged by the age of the high school building. It was first erected in 1920, and the newest part of the high school was added in the 1950s.

“There’s not enough to keep things running,” McCord said. “We’re transferring $300,000 to $400,000 a year to for buildings and maintenance. The sales tax increase would keep us from relying so much on working cash bonds.”

One of the high-priority projects on McCord’s radar is to put a new roof over the stadium locker room. It has been leaking to the point where it has become a safety issue. Work on that project could begin as early as Monday.

Arickx is dealing with newer buildings than McCord. He says that after addressing the levy abatement, he would look at several projects that range from roofs to air conditioning and entryways in his five buildings.

“We have a hodgepodge of additions mainly from the 1950s,” Arickx said. “The middle school was built in the mid-70s.”

Another selling point for this tax is that visitors are helping foot the bill, McCord said.

“The entire state of Iowa adopted this tax, and the difference it has made for the schools there is incredible,” McCord said.

April 9, 2013 ballot results

Here are the results from school facility sales tax referendums on the April 9 ballots statewide.

County Vote percentage Pass/fail

Boone 65%-35% Passed

Christian 64%-36% Passed

Crawford 28%-72% Failed

Douglas 57%-43% Passed

Fulton 47%-53% Failed

Henry 55%-45% Passed

LaSalle 42%-58% Failed

Lee 27%-73% Failed

Livingston 55%-45% Passed

Jersey 37%-63% Failed

Marshall39%-61% Failed

Mercer59%-41%Passed

Ogle 37%-63%Failed

Randolph 44%-56% Failed

Tazewell 40%-60% Failed

Whiteside 46%-54% Failed

Woodford 42%-58% Failed

All Counties 6/17 pass (35%)

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