With funding from the state dwindling, many west-central Illinois school districts are pushing to get voters to pass one-cent sales tax initiatives.
Since the passage of the County School Facility Occupation Tax Law in 2007, only 24 counties in Illinois have added up to an additional one cent to local sales taxes for certain purchases.
Some counties have tried again and again without success, but many in favor of this measure expect it’s going to become more widespread throughout the state.
In Greene County, an association of supporters are teaming up with groups in Jersey, Macoupin and Calhoun counties to push for public awareness. All are hoping to see referendums pass this November, and Greene County is the only one among the four that has not tried it before.
Beth Burrus, member of the Greene County association, said she was in favor of a solution for schools that was something other than increasing property taxes.
“The way that our tax for our schools bring pretty much dependent on property tax is just not working anymore,” she said. “The need is dramatic. We live in a state where it’s difficult. Our state struggles with its payments, and what the state can give has definitely been reduced. Just adding to the sales tax, for me, wouldn’t be that hard.”
There have been more unsuccessful attempts to pass the sales tax measure than successful ones. Whiteside County has tried four times, and Pike County tried twice before it passed this year.
After a failed vote in 2012, Jacksonville School District 117 went back to square one, developing a long-term plan — Vision 117 — from scratch. Still, the district came to the conclusion that the one-cent sales tax increase would be the most effective way to help the schools and that it had more support than further increasing property tax.
“First you’ve got a decision of generating local money,” said Superintendent Steve Ptacek. “It’s a local control issue because the state, with a decreasing revenue stream, is not coming in to fix our problem.”
Ptacek said the shared burden of a sales tax is going to be the more appealing option as more school districts look to find new funding.
“I would expect, given our current climate at the state level, the sales tax will be a common item seen on ballots in the state,” he said.
About five years ago, a one-cent sales tax increase was passed in Cass County. A-C Central Superintendent Tim Page said it generates more than $135,000 annually for the district.
“For us it’s been fantastic,” he said. “We have used the proceeds to abate bonds, principal and interest. … This has been a great tool for us to handle that debt and get it taken care of.”
Page said he believed that more school districts will be pushing for the new sales tax, and thought that many counties were up against a public education issue.
“I think a lot of times, when it fails, there’s a misunderstanding how it works,” Page said. “There’s a lot of limitations. There’s a lot of things that are not taxed … and the use of those funds is limited. When it fails, it’s often due to a misunderstanding in its purpose.”
North Greene School District is estimated to receive about $279,000 annually if the sales tax referendum passes.
Superintendent Les Stevens said the district has several facilities projects it could start with those funds, including placing a new roof on the 1957 gym, installing new bleachers that are up to code, finishing some asbestos abatement, finish installing new windows in the elementary school and pay off a building bond a year early.
“More and more schools throughout the state are going to be looking for money,” he said. ““I mean there are always other options, and people outside of education say there’s always grants. … And small districts don’t have the manpower to write grants all the time. Some firm may be generous with money but will want you to do something specific with it. And we may not need that or want to focus on other things.”
Cody Bozarth can be reached at 217-245-6121, ext. 1223, or on Twitter @JCnews_Cody.