School buildings could be funded through new penny sales tax

Marianne Gillespie
mgillespie@timestoday.com

When residents hear of the proposed Peoria County school facilities sales tax referendum, some will close their ears to the 1 percent increase.

Proponent Brook Cranford, said, however,  there are reasons to vote “yes” on March 18.

“The money generated from the tax stays locally in our economy,” said Cranford, an Illinois Valley Central District 321 parent.

Cranford, Brian Cline and Paul Mercer are the local faces who are getting the word out about what the penny sales tax could mean for IVC District 321 schools.

“I think that the critical piece to this is that the state keeps cutting from our budget. This is a way for us to take control and try to avoid property tax increases and not burden property owners more,” Cranford said.

The measure would raise an estimated $18 million countywide, IVC District 321 school board member Dr. Dave Kinney said. Kinney also is serving as Peoria District 150’s interim comptroller and has spoke to groups about the referendum.

The amount Chillicothe would receive leaves Cranford and those she has talked to at local meetings surprised.

“When I say it’s $1.4 million, it’s astonishing. I can’t believe how much money would go to our district,” Cranford said of the money that is based upon school enrollment.

That money has been called a “fairer” way to pay for school facility improvements as everyone pays sales tax, not just property owners. The additional funds cannot be used for salaries, buses, operating  expenses or instructional materials.

“We rely so much on property taxes. We sell bonds. This just provides a little different way to generate money,” Kinney said. “I’m not advocating either way, I just want people to be informed.”

The additional sales tax began in Iowa as a way to help support its school buildings. Currently there are 18 counties in Illinois where voters have approved up to a one cent sales tax since 2007.

The increase only affects items residents already are paying sales tax on, which means it does not include groceries; prescription medication; anything that is titled, such as cars, boats and more; farm equipment; and any services not currently taxed.

The referendum must pass countywide, and would change each local area’s sales tax by 1 percent.

Chillicothe’s current sales tax is 7.25 percent and would be increased to 8.25 percent if voters approved the measure.

With the alternate revenue, Kinney said, it is possible residents could see abated taxes eventually as the school district would not need to sell bonds.

The list of projects the IVC School Board could approve to use the funds includes both past projects that the district is paying off bonds, or future projects.

Kinney, as a former IVC District 321 superintendent, said the district has tried to keep up with preventative measures to avoid major financial hardships, such as replacing sections of roofs at the schools instead of having an entire roof to replace.

Cranford mentioned a couple items she sees as important.

With older schools, there is encapsulated asbestos in tiles that at some point will need to be removed. It is a measure that can be done proactively, or if there is a leak, it could potentially shut down a school to give workers time to take care of the problem, she said.

At Mossville School, the gymnasium has had the same bleachers for years, and when she and her family were visiting for a ball game, her 3-year-old fell through the bleachers because of the space in between each bleacher. Now bleachers do not have that space where someone or items can fall through.

Science labs at many of the schools need to be modernized for a better learning environment for children, Cranford said.

Events held at the Peoria Civic Center or even Summer Camp in Chillicothe could help local schools through sales tax, which they currently do not.

Visitors to the county would help fund the schools as well.

“We think that it would be $200,000 from outsiders,” Kinney said of those traveling to the county for events.

Another benefit, Cranford said, could be an increase in jobs as schools begin these building projects and affect the local economy.

Residents also should be aware that there will be a campaign of volunteers going door-to-door on Saturdays about the referendum, Cranford said.

“I’m not going to miss seven cents on a McDonald’s meal,” Cranford said if a resident spends $7 on a meal. “I realize it will add up over a year, but think of it as a donation to your school district.”

More information can be found on the referendum at www.ivcschools.com and click on “County School Sales Tax Info” on the right side of the homepage.