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Sterling board to vote on sales tax resolution

If District 5 votes yes tonight, it would ensure countywide referendum

Published: Wednesday, July 2, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

STERLING – The Sterling school district will vote tonight on a resolution that – if approved – will put a 1-cent county sales tax referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot.

If the referendum is put on the ballot and passes, the county sales tax will increase from 6.75 percent to 7.75 percent.

The Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico board approved the measure last week and has sent its paperwork to the Whiteside County Regional Schools office.

“We can’t count them until the districts get their official documents in,” Regional School Superintendent Bob Sondgeroth said.

Sondgeroth said he also has paperwork back from the River Bend district. Superintendents from East Coloma-Nelson, Rock Falls Elementary and Rock Falls High School districts have confirmed board approval of the sales tax resolution, but they have not yet completed the paperwork.

Sterling will vote tonight, leaving Erie, Morrison and Montmorency, whose boards are expected to put the resolution to a vote later this month.

Morrison will put the tax resolution on the agenda for its July 28 meeting, Superintendent Scott Vance said. Morrison will first look at tax abatement and then address a couple of high-priority buildings projects, Vance said.

“In the past with the sales tax, our board has looked to abate taxes and stabilize the fund,” Vance said. “Then we have a couple roofing projects that must be done in the next couple years, and we have to replace a boiler in the next 4 years, which is a big project.”

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

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

The number of students represented by the boards that vote to support the measure must constitute a simple majority of the county’s students before the regional superintendent can certify the resolution to the county clerk. Sondgeroth has an Aug. 18 deadline for certification.

Sterling is by far the largest district, with 37 percent of the county’s 9,450 students. If Sterling passes the resolution, it will easily put the measure over the top. The Sterling and Rock Falls districts have a total of 5,221 of the county’s 9,450 students.

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

This is the fourth time in 7 years Whiteside County schools have tried to put the tax on the ballot. Last year, the county’s voters shot down the request for a 1-cent sales tax by a vote of 4,253 to 3,599, or 54.2 percent to 45.8 percent.

Sondgeroth believes the tax might have a better chance of passing this time.

“We’re seeing more grassroots support,” Sondgeroth said. “People have called from Fulton, Rock Falls and Sterling to see who they could contact to help get the message out for the schools.”

As regional schools superintendent, Sondgeroth can’t get involved in such efforts, but he is encouraged by what he sees.

“All I can do is put them in contact with each other,” Sondgeroth said. “Ultimately, it’s neighbors talking to each other, not school officials, who will ultimately make the most difference in what kind of support this gets.”

Yes or no?

The Sterling Public School Board of Education will address the facility sales tax resolution during its meeting that begins at 7 p.m. today in the Sterling High School library, 1608 Fourth Ave.

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