Saturday, March 05, 2011
sponsored by

Chamber hosts sales tax referendum meeting

Send a link to a friend

[March 05, 2011]  Thursday evening the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce hosted an open forum discussion on the proposed 1 percent sales tax that is on the ballot for the election coming up April 5.

Approximately 30 people were present for the meeting.

This is the first of several meetings that will be put on by the Logan County Education Cooperation Committee in order to educate the public on the tax and hopefully gain support for their referendum.

Though hosted by the chamber of commerce, that organization is not taking a position on the issue. According to Andi Hake, executive director, the chamber will remain neutral throughout this process.

Hake introduced the panel who would field questions later in the evening. The panel consisted of Dr. Robert Kidd, board member from District 27; Dr. Mary Ahillen, superintendent of District 27; Lynn Warfel from Champaign County; Robert Bagby, superintendent of Lincoln Community High School; Steven Rohrer, board member of District 27; and Kevin Heid of First Midstate, the investment firm that markets bonds for the school districts.

The night began with presentations from Kidd and Ahillen, who spoke regarding the formation of the cooperation committee and the goals they have set with the purpose of improving the quality of education in Logan County and doing so efficiently through cooperative efforts.


David Hepler of the Logan County Board then delivered a PowerPoint presentation on the tax and how it would affect schools, county residents and the economy.

Currently nine counties in Illinois have passed sales taxes for local schools: Jo Daviess, Knox, Warren, Schuyler, Champaign, Macon, Cass, Lawrence and Williamson.

In addition to Logan, other counties that are working to get a referendum passed are Carroll, Shelby, Fayette, Madison and Franklin.

Hepler said that with a 1 percent increase in taxes, Logan County would still be in line with surrounding communities. He noted that the tax rate in Logan is currently 7.25 percent and would rise to 8.25 percent if the referendum passes and the county board were to approve the full 1 percent.

He noted that the tax is 8 percent in Springfield, 8.75 in Champaign and 9 percent in Decatur.

Hepler said there has been some concern voiced that shoppers will leave Lincoln to make their purchases, but he argued that when you look at the tax rates in surrounding towns where many go, if there is any savings at all, it won't be enough to make it worth the effort.

He illustrated his point using a large-ticket item. In the case of the purchase of a $1,500 television, the final price tag with tax would still be comparable, with less than $10 separating the amount of tax paid in any of the area towns.

Hepler said that passing the tax would result in better schools, lower property taxes, more jobs and a stronger community, and the tax would also benefit every school, from the largest to the smallest.

"This will support every school," Hepler said. "Some schools will get more because they are larger, others might get less, but every school will benefit in the county. Schools like New Holland-Middletown will get over $40,000 a year."

He put a slide on the screen that showed the breakdown of money to individual schools, indicating that Hartsburg-Emden would receive $103,447; Mount Pulaski, $245,781; Lincoln District 27, $592,000; Chester-East Lincoln, $137,507; New Holland-Middletown, $42,026; West Lincoln-Broadwell, $69,677; Lincoln Community High School, $408,039; Illini Central in Mason County, $31,425; Warrensburg-Latham, $33,242; and Olympia High School, $141,109.

When Hepler wrapped up his presentation, the group went into questions and answers. Audience members had been given the opportunity to write down their questions when they came into the meeting.

Attorney and chamber board member Jim Grimaldi acted as mediator, reading the questions and directing them toward members of the panel.

The first question asked: Will our property tax go down?

Bagby answered, saying, yes, the high school board at least had signed a pledge that they would rebate property tax.

The second question asked how Logan County residents could be assured that the state would distribute the funds back to the county.

[to top of second column]


Warfel said he has studied the state law on this and it is constructed very well to protect the funding and assure that it is delivered in a timely manner.

He explained that according to law, the state has 30 days to send the money back out to the Regional Office of Education, and that office has 30 days to distribute the funds to the individual districts.

Later in the meeting, ROE Superintendent Jean Anderson came to the podium to explain exactly how funding is distributed to the school districts.

"There is a pretty complex formula that we have to use, based on the Fall Housing Report for each district," she said. She explained that the report counts the students attending a given school who also live in Logan County. Those are the students who are included in the formula.

She used Lincoln High School as an example, saying that there are students from other counties attending LCHS. "Some students live in Sangamon, DeWitt and Menard County," she said. "Money does not follow them."

On the other hand, for students who live in Logan County and attend an out-of-county school, those schools will also receive funding. She noted the Olympia district, Warrensburg-Latham and Illini Central as schools out of the county that will also benefit from the tax.

Another question that came up was: Are there plans to reduce the liabilities of health care and retirement costs in our schools?

Bagby said that, speaking for the high school, in the last two years they have eliminated two administrative positions, which has helped the school district balance their budget. He felt like that in itself had lowered the costs in question.

Ahillen said that in District 27, 11 certified positions and 23 noncertified positions had been eliminated. She noted that some of those were positions where a staff member had retired and the position was not filled.

Ahillen concluded: "I think in both of our cases (referring to LCHS and District 27), we're getting down to the bone, so we've done what we can to protect our salaries and our benefits for our workers."

Throughout the evening, Warfel spoke up, adding information to support what was being said by other panel members and answering questions based on the experiences of Champaign County.

He is a proponent of the tax and said that it has given a real boost to the schools in his county. He noted that with the funding, the schools have been able to upgrade to high-efficiency systems, have added air conditioning to all of the classrooms and have greatly improved the learning environment for the students.

As the evening drew to a close, he also noted that having modern and attractive facilities in Champaign County has helped to attract new business and industry to the area.

"I work with economic development in Champaign County," he said. "When companies are coming to the county, one of the first things they look at is the schools. The schools are a reflection of us. If your schools are old and run-down with old windows and stuff like that, economic development gets hurt. If you have nice schools, it really has an impact."

If the 1 percent tax referendum passes in April, the next step will be approval by the Logan County Board.

Early in the evening, Hepler noted that the passing of the referendum offered an additional option for funding, but that the county board would decide how to use this information. It will be at their discretion to award a full 1 percent or a fraction of that, whichever they deem to be the best course of action for the county.


Related links

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching and Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law and Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health and Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor