The boards of seven of Whiteside County’s nine school districts have approved resolutions for a sales tax increase and sent the necessary paperwork to the regional schools superintendent.
Regional Superintendent Bob Sondgeroth said he had received petitions from the Sterling, Rock Falls Elementary, Rock Falls High School, Montmorency, River Bend, Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico, and East-Coloma-Nelson school districts.
Those districts represent more than 80 percent of the student population in the county’s schools. A simple majority of 51 percent was needed to get the referendum on the November ballot for a sales tax of 1 percent on most retail sales.
The tax, known as the County School Facility Sales Tax, has been allowed by state law since 2007 as a means of shifting some of the burden for school funding from property taxes. If approved by voters on Nov. 4, the county sales tax will rise to 7.75 percent, from 6.75.
The money from the tax can be used only for maintaining, renovating and upgrading existing school buildings, new construction projects, or paying off bonds sold for buildings and maintenance purposes.
The tax is not assessed on groceries, medication, services, farm equipment, cars, trucks, ATVs, boats, RVs, and mobile homes.
“I will wait until August to formally file the resolution with the county clerk,” Sondgeroth said. “This will allow the other districts to vote on the measure.”
The other districts are Morrison and Erie. Morrison will vote on the measure Monday, but like last year, Erie will not put the resolution before its board.
“We voted on the resolution the first four times, but as long as a majority of the districts approve it, our board had no desire to take action,” Erie Superintendent K. Bradley Cox said.
Schools are not obligated to put the resolution to their boards for a vote. If the measure passes, however, all schools will benefit from the revenue according to their enrollments, regardless of whether or how they voted.
Cox said the Erie district isn’t any less motivated than other schools to get the word out on the tax.
“We will provide all of our citizens with information,” Cox said. “We are doing fliers, and we will have an informational meeting for the public as the election gets closer.”
The Erie district is one of the smallest in the county, with 593 students. If the tax hike passes, Erie will be in line for an additional $254,090.
Cox said the district is fortunate that all four of its buildings are on one campus, but some are showing their age.
“Two of the buildings are in excess of 60 years old, so there is constant upkeep that must be done,” he said.
While Cox understands that any kind of tax is a tough sell to voters, he believes this particular tax presents a unique opportunity for small districts.
“From a tax flow perspective, a majority of sales tax money is generated in larger towns,” he said. “I want to try to inform citizens that a measure like this benefits rural districts even more than the larger ones.”
This is the fourth time in 7 years that Whiteside County’s school districts have put the 1-cent sales tax for school facilities on the ballot. The county’s voters last year turned down the request by a vote of 4,253-3,599, or 54.2 percent to 45.8 percent.
In Carroll County, the regional superintendent filed the sales tax resolution with the county clerk last week. Only West Carroll had voted and submitted its paperwork to Regional Office of Education 8, which serves Stephenson, Carroll, and Jo Daviess counties.
The two other Carroll County schools are Chadwick-Milledgeville and Eastland. The sales tax resolution is on the Chadwick-Milledgeville agenda for today’s 7 p.m. meeting.
Regional superintendent Aaron Mercier said Eastland is supportive of the measure, but because West-Carroll alone constituted a majority of the county’s student enrollment, the district didn’t push it forward.
“West Carroll was the only petition we had, but because that district was 52 percent of the student population, we moved forward,” Mercier said.
“This won’t be a typical ballot in Carroll County in November,” Mercier said. “The clerk said it will be longer than usual, and its complexity might be something to consider.”
But tax increase supporters in Carroll County have more reason for optimism. This past spring’s vote was much closer than in Whiteside. Sales tax supporters came in at 48 percent, falling short by just 100 votes.
Whiteside schools' share
Listed by district, enrollment, estimated share from tax increase
Sterling #5 – 3,462 (37%); $1,566,899
Morrison #6 – 1,111 (12%); $508,180
Rock Falls Elementary #13 – 1,096 (11.5%); $487,006
River Bend #2 – 1,002 (11%); $465,832
Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico #3 – 876 (9%); $380,955
Rock Falls High School #301 – 663 (7%); $296,438
Montmorency #145 – 315 (3%); $127,045
East Coloma-Nelson #20 – 241 (2.5%); $105,870
*Students in other districts (Bureau Valley, Chadwick-Milledgeville, Polo) – 91 (1%); $42,348
Source: Whiteside County Regional Office of Education