Education

Voters rejected this tax increase twice, but Madison County schools want to try again

In this file photo, Granite City District 9 Superintendent Jim Greenwald stands on the roof of Prather Elementary and talks about the aging roof and other maintenance needs for the school and others as Madison County schools prepared to ask voters about increasing the sales tax rates countywide to pay for building repairs and construction debt. That was ahead of the April 2017 election. Now, Madison County schools say they are willing to try again in the March 2018 election.
In this file photo, Granite City District 9 Superintendent Jim Greenwald stands on the roof of Prather Elementary and talks about the aging roof and other maintenance needs for the school and others as Madison County schools prepared to ask voters about increasing the sales tax rates countywide to pay for building repairs and construction debt. That was ahead of the April 2017 election. Now, Madison County schools say they are willing to try again in the March 2018 election. snagy@bnd.com

A majority of the school districts in Madison County have decided they want to try for a third time to ask voters about increasing sales tax rates countywide to pay for school building projects and construction debt.

During a recent meeting at the Madison County Regional Office of Education, superintendents from 10 school districts said they are willing to try again in the March election, according to Regional Superintendent Bob Daiber.

The next step is for their school boards to pass resolutions. Their deadline to file the resolutions with the county clerk is Jan. 2, so if the boards haven’t already considered the sales tax question, they’ll have to do so at their December meetings.

The question won’t appear on March 20, 2018, ballots until school boards representing at least half of the student population in Madison County approve and submit those resolutions.

Some districts, like Highland District 5 and East Alton-Wood River 14, already passed resolutions in November.

Collinsville Unit 10 is the only school district that decided not to pass a resolution, according to Daiber. He said Roxana District 1 Superintendent Debra Kreutztrager wasn’t present at the meeting at the regional office of education.

The 1 percent sales tax increase wouldn’t apply to purchases like groceries, medications, services or titled vehicles.

By law, schools would only be allowed to use the new revenue from the sales tax increase for specific costs like construction, maintenance, renovation or debt from previous work on their facilities. The money couldn’t be used to pay for things like salaries or operating costs.

The money also wouldn’t go through the Illinois General Assembly’s budget process, which means it wouldn’t be subject to state cuts. It would be distributed by the regional office of education to the 13 school districts in Madison County based on their student populations.

Proponents have argued in the past that people who live outside of the county would be contributing money for schools because anyone who shops in Madison County would pay the sales tax.

Opponents previously noted that the increase would never expire and that bond companies and construction companies — who were the top donors to campaigns pushing for its passage — would benefit from the new revenue.

Daiber said he supports the sales tax increase because the money could help lower another tax for residents: the property taxes they pay to the schools.

That’s because one of the ways the sales tax money can be used is to repay construction debt, so school districts would not have to tap into property taxes to cover that cost.

The last time Madison County schools proposed the sales tax increase, Triad Unit 2, for example, promised to use half of the new revenue in the first year toward debt to lower property taxes.

The sales tax question appeared on election ballots earlier this year and in 2011. Each time, Madison County voters have rejected the proposal.

The Madison County Republican Party also opposed it, saying this year that a sales tax increase would make local retailers less competitive with businesses across the river.

However, in the most recent election, it failed by just 259 votes. More than 80 percent of voters said no six years earlier.

Here are the results from the April 5, 2011, election:

▪  Yes: 7,409 (19.4 percent)

▪  No: 30,702 (80.6 percent)

And from the April 4, 2017, election:

▪  Yes: 21,875 (49.7 percent)

▪  No: 22,124 (50.3 percent)

Although April’s proposal was rejected by a majority, it did pass in at least eight school districts: Alton, Bethalto, Edwardsville, Granite City, Madison, Roxana, Venice and Wood River, according to a News-Democrat analysis of the unofficial results.

Schools in St. Clair County asked voters to consider a sales tax increase for the first time in April. It failed by 5,444 votes.

St. Clair County Regional Superintendent Susan Sarfaty said this week the superintendents hadn’t talked with the regional office of education about pursing the sales tax again in March.

Daiber’s name will appear on March 2018 ballots as one of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to run for governor of Illinois.

Reporter Joseph Bustos contributed to this report.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

How they voted

The following is a breakdown of how Madison County residents voted on the sales tax increase for school facilities in the April 4, 2017, election by school district:

School district

Yes

No

Alton

52.2%

47.8%

Bethalto

52.8%

47.2%

Collinsville

38.4%

61.6%

Edwardsville

50.4%

49.6%

Granite City

51.9%

48.1%

Highland

45.6%

54.4%

Madison

65.1%

34.9%

Roxana

51.9%

48.1%

Triad

43.3%

56.7%

Venice

65.4%

34.6%

Wood River

57.4%

42.6%

Source: Unofficial totals available as of April 2017.

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