Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

October 23, 2013

School facility tax proponents hoping third time a charm

Jackson Adams
Effingham Daily News

SHELBYVILLE — With many local school districts feeling the impact of state funding cuts, a new tax meant to capitalize on Shelby County tourism could help pay for facilities and maintenance.

”Some people have referred to it as a Wal-Mart tax,” said Shelbyville Superintendent Denise Bence of the facility sales tax, which would tax an additional 1 percent on luxury items such as clothing, electronics and home goods would bring the money to schools to improve facilities. “In Shelbyville, we’re hoping that some of the tourism helps us pay for supporting our schools, so it’s not all falling on the local residents.”

Residents have rejected a tax hike for schools in Shelby County twice, but Bence said the key to passing such a hike would be educating the public on where exactly the money would be going and that the tax would not affect unprepared food, medicine, farming equipment, vehicles, gasoline or property.

“I just think more information needs to get out to the outlying (parts of the) county,” she said. “I think there are new superintendents and maybe just a fresh approach to getting the information out there to the Cowden-Herricks, the Central A&Ms and the Stew-Stras community. There just needs to be more information.”

The question cannot go before voters until it is approved by districts representing more than 51 percent of the students in Shelby County. With the goal of getting the tax on the March primary ballot, superintendents throughout the county are preparing to educate their communities on the needs of their districts.

Stewardson-Strasburg Superintendent Michele Lindenmeyer said while the board has yet to vote on whether or not to support the tax, she said the key will be educating the community on exactly what it would be paying for and how they would be paying for it.

“It’s not necessarily taking a ‘vote yes’ stance, but we’re taking a role to educate the community so they can make a sound decision based on the facts,” she said. “You hear the word tax, and you cringe before you even hear the message, so we want to make sure that they know what it is.”

Lindenmeyer said she understood the conflict some Stewardson and Strasburg residents may have about the tax after the district had campaigned heavily for a property tax referendum in the spring but stressed facility sales tax would mainly target Shelby County tourists, potentially those visiting Lake Shelbyville.

“The thing is making sure we educate that this isn’t a property tax, but it’s a sales tax,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to get people from Chicago who are going to the lake to help pay for our schools. It’s kind of a way to improve your school and have other people pay for it.”

Cowden-Herrick Superintendent Darrell Gordon said he thought the key to getting the tax would also be community education. He said the roofs at the district would need to be repaired and the money potentially coming in from the tax could add about $100,000 to the district’s facilities budget. It also would allow the district more financial freedom to pay for repairs in an emergency.

“I love the 50/50 matching grants, but you need money to get them,” Gordon said. “That’s something I look forward to is the opportunity to get these 50/50 grants.”

Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or at jackson.adams@effinghamdailynews.com.