Saturday, February 19, 2011
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Committee develops marketing strategy for 1 percent sales tax referendum

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[February 19, 2011]  The Logan County Education Cooperation Committee knows that if they have hopes of getting a referendum passed on the April ballot, imposing a 1 percent sales tax in Logan County, they are going to have to sell it to the public.

At a meeting at Central School on Thursday evening, they developed an aggressive plan of public, open-forum meetings targeted at educating voters on the referendum and the effect it will have on Logan County residents.

They also set a tentative date for their first public meeting, which will be hosted by the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce the first week in March. From there the committee will move to holding meetings at individual school districts as well as special meetings targeting some of the key voting populations in the county.

The general election in April is what is dubbed as an "off-cycle" election. There are no important federal or state races, and even the local offices, such as the five open city council seats, have only the incumbents on the ballot, running uncontested.

The committee noted that the last off-cycle election was in 2009 and the voter turnout equaled only 16 percent of all registered voters in Logan County. To get their resolution passed, they will have to sway the faithful few who always vote and also encourage supporters of the referendum, who might not otherwise vote, to make the trip to the polls.

The County Schools Facility Occupation Tax Law was passed and put into effect by the state of Illinois in October of 2007.

This law enabled school districts to levy a sales tax on certain consumer products and services, with specific uses for the money outlined by the law. Since that time, a number of Illinois counties have implemented the tax.

In November 2010 the local school districts agreed to go forward with trying to implement the sales tax in Logan County.

The committee then took their request to the county board for a referendum vote on this year's ballot.

The referendum asks for a full 1 percent sales tax on consumable goods, with the exception of groceries, prescription medicine, motorized vehicles, farm equipment and supplies, and services that are not now taxed, just to name a few.

Every property owner in Logan County is more than likely paying a portion of their property tax to at least one and in most cases two school districts.

The portion that is being paid to the schools is being applied to school bonds that have been issued for life-safety improvements to the facilities or for building and expansion projects.

Simply put, a bond is a loan that uses property tax levies as collateral.

When a school district has to invest a large sum of money into its facilities, a bond is issued and a tax is levied to repay the bond.

Using key words such as "swap," committee member Roger Matson said he has been talking to individuals about the tax, explaining that it will be a swap between sales tax and property tax.

Regional Superintendent of Schools Jean Anderson said she is telling people that "if it isn't taxed now, it won't be."

The concept behind the sales tax is that it will be a trade-off for at least a portion of the property tax levy.

Currently several Logan County schools have bonds that they are paying off with property tax levies. The schools are vowing to abate a portion of that levy when the sales tax is approved and put into effect in 2012.

Lincoln High School Superintendent Robert Bagby said that for the levy the high school has right now, properties valued at $125,000 will have their taxes reduced by about $100 a year from the LCHS bond alone.

In addition, the sales tax will be cash pooled into a facility fund for future uses.

Every 10 years, school facilities go through a life-safety inspection as mandated by the Illinois State Board of Education. As a result of these inspections, the state board issues mandates for improvements that must be made to facilities for the safety and well-being of the students.

With a facility fund in place, the school will have immediate cash to draw on for these improvements, and Logan County property owners will be less likely to have to bear the burden of additional tax levies.

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A key point that the committee hopes to drive home in their public meetings is going to be that with a sales tax, Logan County property owners will no longer be the only ones supporting local schools.

While the sales tax is only 1 percent, the committee anticipates that it will generate more than the property tax because the sales tax will be applied to all consumers, including those who pass through Logan County, making only brief stops for gasoline or fast food.

And finally, once they have the money, do the schools really need it? Simply put, yes.

In District 27, which includes the city elementary schools and Lincoln Junior High School, many of the buildings are at least 50 years old.

In a letter of support for the sales tax, Superintendent Mary Ahillen wrote: "Washington-Monroe is operating with an original boiler that will soon have to be replaced, the roof is leaking into the library, and the windows are inefficient. Northwest shares the challenges of single-paned windows and doors to the outside and need replacing; the boilers at Adams and Jefferson (are experiencing) an increase in energy consumption that can be remedied with new controls."

In a similar letter from the Mount Pulaski Community Unit District 23 school board, it was noted that portions of the existing high school were built in 1912 and 1927. The board would like to be able to consider replacing these older buildings. In addition, work needs to be done on the bleachers at the high school, improvements are needed in the parking and sidewalk areas, roof repairs are needed, and a boiler replacement is also in their future.

Chester-East school board member Ken Golden said the school needs to do a great deal of work on their boiler system as well. In that building, the boiler pipes are embedded in the concrete floors, and the work to be done is going to be very costly.

He also said the school doesn't have time to wait for the sales tax revenue. They will be forced to issue new bonds in the near future to cover the cost of the repairs.

In addition to conducting public meetings, the committee also discussed using local media sources such as newspaper, radio and television to get their message out, handing out fliers and brochures, addressing civic organizations and clubs, and the possibility of a door-to-door campaign where they will call on registered voters one at a time, seeking support.

In closing, it should be noted the school cooperation committee is a group of volunteers interested in improving the quality of education in Logan County. They are not paid for their time nor do they use school funds to achieve their goals.


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