Residents attend meeting to learn about proposed sales tax for schools

OTHSO’FALLON – Around 150 attended a meeting to discuss a proposed sales tax increase to help schools pay for construction costs for new buildings or to repair older ones.

The meeting was the first of a series to be held in O’Fallon about the proposal. All four local superintendents were in attendance, as well as a few O’Fallon aldermen and many members of the various boards of education in O’Fallon and Shiloh.

“We’re not here to campaign for a sales tax increase,” moderator David Hopkins stated early on.

Hopkins is a member of a committee made up of community members which has been assembled to assess the status of current school facilities, learn more about the sales tax legislation, gather public input, and report feedback from the O’Fallon area back to the St. Clair County Task Force and Steering Committee.

Following Hopkins’ short presentation about the committee and its purpose, Managing Director of Public Finance for Stifel Financial Ann Noble began her presentation, which drilled down into the tax proposal.

Noble explained that the Illinois General Assembly had passed a law in 2007 allowing counties to vote to raise their sales tax by one percent in order to help fund school facility costs. Currently, 33 counties have voted and approved the tax increase, while 29, including Madison County and Washington County voted the measure down.

Under the law, everything in the municipal and county sales tax base will be included under the school sales tax, except for:

• Cars, trucks, and ATV’s

• Boats and RV’s

• Mobile Homes

• Unprepared food

• Drugs (including over the counter and vitamins)

• Farm equipment and parts

• Farm inputs

“Essentially, if you don’t pay taxes on it now, you won’t under this law,” explained Noble.

Schools will be allotted their portion of the sales tax revenue based on their percentage of the student population within the county. From there, districts have a few options as to how to use the revenue. They can save the money over time to pay for capital projects outright, issue new bonds for current capital needs and support those bonds with the sales tax, and they can retire existing debt issued for capital purposes.

Noble did point out that theoretically a district could reduce property taxes under this proposal as a board of education could elect to abate existing property taxes by using the sales tax funds to pay off outstanding bonds. However, Noble stressed it is the individual board’s decision as to how to use the revenue generated.

During her presentation, Noble estimated the four districts in O’Fallon and Shiloh could stand to receive more than $3.7 million annually, with District 90 bringing in the most with $1.8 million. It’s estimated the tax will collect more than $22 million across St. Clair County.

When it comes to outstanding capital debt, all four districts could use assistance. Currently, District 85 owes $4.4 million, District 90 owes $33.6 million, Central 104 owes $7.7 million, and OTHS 203 owes $34.1 million in building bond debt.

In order for the school sales tax proposal to reach the ballot,  school boards representing more than 50 percent of the resident student enrollment in the county must adopt resolutions stating they wish the question to be placed before the voters. From there, a simple majority of votes cast county-wide is all that is needed for the tax increase to pass.

Before the formal presentations were finished and everyone began to split into groups to formulate questions and express concerns, the four superintendents presented their current capital needs. All four expressed concerns related to aging facilities, security, technology and infrastructure, and the sustainability of space. Aging facilities was a specific concern as Shiloh Elementary was built in 1956 and has received six additions, Central Elementary was built in 1957 and has received three additions, Kampmeyer Elementary was built in 1965, and OTHS Smiley was built in 1958 and has received ten additions.

Following the break out sessions, a common concern centered around trust and transparency. Many residents that spoke said that if the tax proposal were to be approved they expected the various school boards to be very transparent about their intended use of the funds. Residents seemed to indicate they would want to hear proposals from the boards possibly prior to approval of the tax increase.

Additionally, many residents asked why Stifel, a private financial company, was making a presentation about a tax increase proposal. Noble explained that since Stifel works with many school districts when it comes to capital construction bonds, it is serving in an informational capacity. Noble did say that if the tax increase were to be approved, school boards would be free to use whatever financial agency they wished to issue bonds, not just Stifel.

The next community session will be held on Tuesday, March 22, at 7 p.m. at Fulton Junior High School.

To learn more about the proposal and to review all of the questions asked at the initial community meeting, visit www.best4schools.net/communityengagement.htm.

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