Officials estimate that $5.3 million would be generated annually for public school districts in Effingham County, based on 2018 sales, if voters on Tuesday approve the Illinois County School Facility Tax, also called the 1 Cent Sales Tax.
It's time voters here do just that. We urge a "yes" vote on this referendum question.
While surrounding districts have reported the benefits of spreading around the burden of providing for public schools, Effingham County voters have rejected similar proposals twice since 2014. The last time the proposal appeared on the ballot, in 2017, the referendum was rejected by a 58-42 percent margin. In spring 2014, the margin was even wider, with 27 percent in favor and 73 percent against.
We understand the reluctance to approve any new tax, especially when it seems, sometimes, that government does a poor job watching over our hard-earned tax dollars. In fact, there was spirited discussion among Effingham Daily News editorial board members about just that.
In the end, the needs of our area's school children outweigh such skittishness.
The amount of funds each district gets from the tax is based on the number of students in each school district who reside in the county. Based on 2017 sales, the breakdown would be: 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.
These days, the usefulness of that kind of money can't be underestimated.
There are 54 counties in Illinois where the sales tax for schools is in place. Besides Effingham, voters in Fayette, Union and Tazwell counties will be considering it on Tuesday.
Unit 40 Assistant Superintendent Jason Fox said the sales tax would address school facilities needs such as roof work, HVAC systems, sidewalks and more. It will also help create safe environments for students with upgrades and renovations. He said state law spells out exactly how the funds can be used; they can't be used for salaries, purchasing buses, textbooks, maintenance on vehicles, computers, electric bills.
Officials have estimated that 54 percent of the money raised would come from non-residents – people passing through the county, visiting the county or shoppers coming here.
We don't buy the argument that the tax would keep people from coming to Effingham County to shop. Surrounding counties already have the tax.
Jasper County voters approved it in November.
“This 1 percent sales tax is a game changer and, if managed right, it can really help out in lots of areas, as far as the facilities are concerned,” said Andrew Johnson, the school superintendent in Jasper County. “Everybody goes and buys things. Now everybody gets to be a part of the process and help in the future of their kids."
In 2017, when we also urged approval of this measure, we said, "The most important task that a local unit of government shoulders is educating young people. Your school districts in Effingham County, like their counterparts elsewhere in Illinois, are meeting that obligation while working at a disadvantage because of the financial woes saddling this state."
That's as true today as it was then. Vote yes.