Perry County voters next Tuesday go to the polls to vote for or against something called the Illinois School Facility Occupation Tax. It would add a one-cent sales tax to the current retail sales taxes paid on applicable items you buy. The revenue can only be spent by the schools in two ways: 1.) building repairs or construction and 2.) using it to abate a portion of the real estate tax we pay.
The tax now exists in Jackson, Randolph, Williamson and Franklin Counties. For voters in Perry County, it’s a reasonable solution to fund the replacement of a $1 million roof on the 17-year-old Du Quoin Middle School, but the vote comes in a bad economy where voters are sick and tired of more taxes and utility rate increases--water, electric and cable television.
Locally, the vote will also depend upon whether Du Quoin voters give District 300 a pass on things like being unable to pick its own replacement school board member. The board was deadlocked 3-3 with three members favoring Keenan Rice to fill Beaver Rice’s seat and three favoring longtime educator Pat Ferrari. The board couldn’t decide on these two or identify a third candidate and the issue went to regional superintendent Donna Boros who settled it by making a political Democrat party decision.
And, despite the district’s argument of shaving $1 million in spending, the board voted on a new multi-year contract last year for Supt. Dr. Gary Kelly who literally pulled a contract he authored from his coat pocket and asked the board to approve it. The majority did.
But, again, do you forgive the opportunism and politics and vote for a reasonable solution to repair buildings and cut property taxes?
Dist. 300 superintendent Dr. Gary Kelly Wednesday night explained the opportunities.
He said the tax would generate $650,000 a year for the district. Half of that money ($325,000) would be used for things like replacing the 17-year-old roof on the middle school, replace doors and repair of replace climate control units.
He said the other half would be used to drop property taxes .60 cents per $100 of valuation over the first three years and another .80 cents per $100 in subsequent years for a total of $1.40 per $100. All told,taxpayers currently pay $5.90 per $100 of assessed valuation in the district.
It could be a meaningful savings on property taxes and shift some of that burden to shoppers. The tax applies to merchandise except cars, trucks, mobile homes, groceries, medicines, farm equipment and services will cost you another penny on the dollar, if approved April 7.
It can not be used for things like educational salaries, pensions and transportation, etc.
If the tax passes, the first of the revenue would be collected in July and distributed in October of this year.
Dr. Kelly was prepared and well-organized during the informational meeting.
Du Quoin-area shoppers already pay an 8.25 percent sales tax on goods purchased downtown and 8.75 percent at businesses along Rt. 51 south after this year’s implementation of a city-supported half-cent economic development tax. That tax is being used to help support the new Bottom Dollar grocery and the GM-invoked remodeling of Chip Banks Chevrolet.
Here’s how the current 8.75 percent tax breaks down:
• 5 percent goes to State of Illinois.
• 1 percent goes to City of Du Quoin.
• .25 percent (quarter percent) goes to Perry County.
• 1 percent is Du Quoin’s home rule sales tax.
• .50 percent (half percent) sales tax is being used to retire Du Quoin District 300’s share of local bonds on new high school.
• .50 percent (half percent) sales tax for county public safety.
• .50 percent (half percent) Du Quoin business development tax (applied to sales from businesses o Rt. 51 south of East Franklin Street)
Total: 8.75 percent in Sales Tax
Voters will have to decide if its a legitimate way to offset shortfalls in state funding or is it simply a game of “guess which hand it’s in.”
Voters will remember the late Mayor John Rednour doing something similar five years ago with the promise that a one percent sales tax would forever abate (eliminate) local residents’ share of real estate tax.
At the time, it was an honest goal.
But, four years into the promise the city grew its personnel costs and the attached pension liability so that it has since been unable to abate the levy. Taxpayers are paying BOTH the real estate tax and the sales tax.
Dr. Kelly makes the case that the city’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) districts have parked any natural growth in assessed valuation and the real estate taxes tied to those assessments. What the law says is that from the year the TIF was created going forward, any money generated beyond what the district got at the time the TIF was created goes, not to the school, but instead into an economic development fund. It is those TIF monies that are creating the funds for downtown Du Quoin development.
Dr. Kelly also makes the case that the state’s shortfall in school funding is now well over $2 million.
Dr. Kelly says the district will be faced in the near future with putting a new roof on Du Quoin’s elementary and middle school.
The bonds on that building will be paid off in 2019. Can’t we simply refinance the tail-end of those bonds to pay for a roof without another tax.
His response: “We could.” But funding life, health and safety issues can be a nightmare. The district already has $10 million in outstanding bond debt.
He also makes the case for using the tax to abate part of the district’s real estate tax levy.
Something else that is going to make this a tough sell is the already “give ‘til it hurts” support of the school district by the community: Two new schools in 15 years, support of the Education Foundation, unbridled administrative pay hikes and attached pension support and, last fall, the Indian Pride Weekend for district athletics is already a lot to ask in this economy.
The law creating this sales tax was designed to assist counties in dire straits with respect to the infrastructure of their schools.
Budget problems still tend to get down to one thing: Spending problems.
Voters across Perry County--not just voters in District 300--will see the question on next Tuesday’s ballot.