Voters will decide whether to create a new sales tax to fund construction and renovation projects in Madison County schools.
All but three school boards in Madison County have voted to support the referendum for a 1-cent sales tax, the proceeds of which would go directly to the districts and be limited to construction of new schools and renovations and expansion of existing schools.
Regional Superintendent Bob Daiber confirmed it meets the criteria for placing the referendum on the ballot, which he described as a district-led initiative.
Venice and Edwardsville school boards opted not to take a vote on supporting the referendum; Collinsville Unit 10’s board voted 4-2 against it. The other 15 districts in Madison County voted in favor of putting the referendum on the ballot.
Under state law, school boards within a county representing more than 50 percent of student enrollment in the county have to pass resolutions in favor of placing the sales tax referendum on the ballot.
“The benefit is property tax relief,” said Triad Superintendent Leigh Lewis. She said districts would be able to pay off existing debt with the money and stockpile it for future projects, reducing or eliminating the need for property tax referenda for construction projects.
“This money would be a way to take care of those facility expenses that might otherwise be shifted to property owners,” Lewis said.
The sales tax was last proposed in 2011, when it was rejected by voters. Since then, however, increasing cuts in state aid changed many opinions; the Roxana school district, for example, did not support the tax in 2011, but voted this year in favor.
The tax would apply only to small consumer goods and gas, but not titled vehicles, groceries or medication. The tax is estimated to raise $22.7 million per year county-wide, which comes to about $538 per student. The money would be remitted back to the districts based on population, and could be used only for construction and renovation projects and their bonds, not salaries, operations, textbooks etc.
It’s a way to reduce property taxes, to give our property owners some relief and take care of some of these big-ticket items.
Triad Superintendent Leigh Lewis
The money would also be remitted to five school districts in Clinton or Monroe counties who have students or schools over the county line, also on a per-student basis.
At least 40 percent of sales tax revenue in Madison County is generated by people outside the county, thanks to the interstate system that brings a lot of travelers and commuters through the county, Daiber said.
Lewis estimated Triad could eventually drop its tax rate by 23 cents with the estimated income from the sales tax.
“It’s a way to reduce property taxes, to give our property owners some relief and take care of some of these big-ticket items,” she said.
It’s also a way to combat unfunded mandates, Lewis said. For example: new legislation will require that all schools undergo lead testing in their water systems. Triad recently tested all their schools, and it cost about $3,000.
“Once this legislation goes into effect, $3,000 would be a bargain,” Lewis said. “We came in the normal ranges for all the buildings, there were no significant findings. But we probably have some of the newest buildings in the county; we only have two operational older buildings.”
The new law provided no state funding for the mandatory lead testing, and Lewis said this sales tax fund could be used to pay for the testing and remediation of any high lead levels found in the schools.
Daiber said 47 counties in Illinois have passed this particular tax, which was authorized by the state in 2007 and amended in 2011 to eliminate county board approval from the process.
Collinsville Unit 10 was the only district to vote down supporting the referendum in a 4-2 vote. Board president Gary Peccola said there was concern that it would put sales taxes too high within the city.
“Collinsville already has a pretty high sales tax with our business districts, and that would be an increase of another percent,” Peccola said. “We don’t feel it’s fair to the consumer... There’s no doubt that money would benefit any district, but we had to weigh the pros and the cons.”
There’s no doubt that money would benefit any district, but we had to weigh the pros and the cons.
Collinsville Unit 10 board president Gary Peccola
The biggest winner would be Edwardsville District 7, which has the largest student population in Madison County. District 7 would receive more than $4 million per year from the new tax, if it’s approved by voters. However, the board opted not to vote on it and has chosen to remain neutral.
District 7 is running its own referendum to increase property taxes in the education fund this spring: 55 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value, or an increase of $183 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home.
The Edwardsville referendum failed by 1,080 votes out of nearly 28,000 cast in the November election.
“We acknowledge that (the sales tax) is a positive thing for many districts,” said Edwardsville Superintendent Lynda Andre. “For District 7, however, our highest priority is the ed fund increase.”
While every district has infrastructure needs, Andre said, Edwardsville’s biggest problem is the deficit in the education fund covering the cost of operating the district, including salaries, textbooks and other educational needs.
When asked if the sales tax question could hurt District 7’s chances of passing the education fund increase, she said they will need to articulate to the voters what each question means for the financial future of the district.
“It is not an alternative revenue source for the education fund,” Andre said. “The limitations on the use of the sales tax funds will not solve our financial problems.”
District 7’s property tax increase, if approved, is estimated to bring in $6.9 million per year to district revenue. The new funds would be dedicated to balancing the budget by June 2019; eliminating operating debt; $1 million toward postponed projects like aging textbooks and upgrading technology and school security systems; and $1.5 million toward anticipated cost increases.
The referendum will appear on Madison County ballots in the April election.
At a glance
Estimated sales tax income per district:
- Roxana: $1.1 million
- Triad: $2.1 million
- Venice: $50,000
- Highland: $1.6 million
- Edwardsville: $4.3 million
- Bethalto: $1.4 million
- Granite City: $3.5 million
- Collinsville: $3.2 million
- Alton: $3.6 million
- Madison: $385,000
- East Alton: $494,000
- East Alton-Wood River High: $302,000
- Wood River-Hartford: $422,000
- Aviston: $3,180 (partial district)
- Central District 71: $1,073 (partial district)
- St. Rose District 14: $865 (partial district
- Bunker Hill: $6,097 (partial district)
- Staunton: $231,000 (partial district)
Source: Study by Stifel Financial Corp.