Sales tax for schools rejected in Effingham County

Dawn Schabbing photoShown is the exterior of the Effingham Junior High school. The school is just one of several in the county to be aided by the 1% sales tax.

Effingham County voters on Tuesday again rejected a 1 percent sales tax that would have benefitted schools. The margin was 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent – or 3,465 against and 2,884 in favor, according to unofficial results.

This was the third time the sales tax question appeared on the ballot; 58 percent of Effingham County voters rejected it in 2017, and 73 percent voted against it in 2014.

Fayette County voters on Tuesday approved the sales tax, joining 54 other Illinois counties that already have it. The vote passed in Fayette County with approval from 59.5 percent of those who cast ballots.

Unit 40 School Board member Jane Willenborg, who was re-elected on Tuesday, said she was disappointed the tax did not pass again.

“I was hoping it would pass this time,” Willenborg said. “Once the schools paid off all their debts, we would be able to lower property taxes. I was hoping we’d get a little relief on property taxes.”

Willenborg hopes the question will appear on a future ballot because she believes it would benefit the county’s schools. She said the fact that the votes were closer this time gives her hope about a future vote.

The amount of funds each district would have received from an estimated $5.3 million revenue was based on the number of students in each school district who resided in the county. The revenue for each district was estimated at: Altamont Unit 10, $747,000; Beecher City Unit 20, $257,000; Dieterich Unit 30, $532,000, Effingham Unit 40, $2.87 million; and Teutopolis Unit 50, $1.1 million, based on sales from 2017.

Other districts that would have benefited include North Clay, Jasper County, St. Elmo, and Stew-Stras; each district had the possibility to receive $11,000 in revenue from the sales tax.

Newly elected Unit 40 School Board member Jill Wendling said the county missed out on an opportunity to invest in the schools’ futures.

“I’m disappointed because I see the tax as being an investment in our schools, kids and our future,” Wendling said. “No one likes to pay taxes, but the problem is, they’re the only source of revenue for our schools. Of course, the board and the administration has to be responsible with the money.”

Revenue from the one-cent sales tax can only be used for new school facilities, additions and renovations, land acquisition, safety and security improvements, energy efficiency, paying of building bonds, architectural planning and engineering and obtaining durable equipment. At the March Effingham County Chamber of Commerce First Friday Luncheon, Unit 40 Assistant Superintendent Jason Fox said funds from the tax cannot be used for salaries, purchasing buses, textbooks, maintenance on vehicles, computers or electric bills.

A 2014 study on the 1 percent sales tax found that, in Effingham County, 54 percent of of the sales tax would be paid for by non-residents passing through, visiting and shopping in the county.

Newly elected Unit 40 School Board member Robin Klosterman expressed her disappointment, too.

“I feel it was important for the schools in our county,” Klosterman said. “It’s just a huge strain on property owners.”

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

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