Douglas County school districts discuss sales tax

Douglas County school districts discuss sales tax

Some school districts in Douglas County are talking about the idea of putting a school facilities sales tax question on the April ballot.

The sales tax, if approved by voters, would help school districts pay for building improvements and pay off construction debt. The idea is being discussed at school board meetings in Villa Grove, Arthur and Arcola.

But Tuscola's school district is also taking advantage of a similar tax collected by the city.

The idea of a county-wide tax is one Douglas County communities would have to get behind for it to work, said Arcola Superintendent Jean Chrostoski.

"Right now, we are just basically working with our boards of education to see how they feel, to see how the community feels," Chrostoski said. "It should be something that a community wants to see happen."

However, she said, it would be a welcome source of alternative funding if school boards and voters decide to move forward with the idea

"It's not good right now," she said about school district funding in general, and it's possible the facilities sales tax could provide some relief to those who pay property taxes.

"A person makes a choice about whether they want to buy something," Chrostoski said, adding that some items aren't subject to the tax.

They include things like cars, trucks, boats, and other titled property, prescription and non-prescription medicine, food, medical appliances and some other medical supplies.

Steven Poznic, the superintendent of the Villa Grove school district, said if the school boards are interested, they'll need to pass a resolution to appear on the April ballot.

School boards representing a majority of the county's students need to approve the ballot question for it to appear, he said.

He said he hasn't heard of local school boards discussing anything less than the full 1 percent sales tax, as allowed by state law.

"From my perspective as a superintendent, I see some real benefits here," Poznic said. Those could include abating property taxes on construction debt, and giving school districts another source of revenue to pay for building improvements.

About 40 Villa Grove students actually live in Champaign County, Poznic said, which means his school district gets about $26,000 a year from Champaign County's school facilities sales tax.

"It goes fast when doing facilities work on schools," Poznic said, but "we put it to good use."

But in Tuscola, the county seat, the city began in July a 0.5 percent sales tax that it's giving the school district through an intergovernmental agreement.

The city council approved the sales tax this spring and made it mirror the stipulations of a county-wide tax, said Drew Hoel, Tuscola's city administrator. That means the school district can spend the money on capital improvements or to pay off construction debt.

The city expects the sales tax to bring in about 400,000 annually.

The city was able to implement the sales tax because it's a home-rule community, and the city council agreed to the sales tax because of tough financial times in the school district, Hoel said.

"Tuscola generates a disproportionate amount of sales tax in the county" because of the Tanger Outlet Center, Hoel said.

A county-wide sales tax for the schools, even if it's 1 percent, would mean less revenue for the Tuscola school district, Hoel said. That's because the county's sales tax money as a whole would be distributed to county school districts based on their populations, not on which town generates the most sales tax money.

"I think ... to be frank, they did that in the interest of keeping those sales tax dollars in Tuscola," Hoel said, of the city council's decision to institute the sales tax and agreement with the school district.

Tuscola's city sales tax for the schools would be nullified if a county-wide sales tax is passed in the county, which would prevent those paying the sales tax from doing so twice, Hoel said.

It will also expire in 10 years. Hoel said that decision was made because the outlet mall is in a tax increment financing district, which will expire at the end of 2021, which could mean increased property tax revenue to the school district.

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