By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSARHerald-Whig Staff Writer
CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Hancock County voters will decide two school tax issues on the April 9 ballot.
Illini West is trying for the second time to win approval of a building referendum for a new high school, while Nauvoo-Colusa seeks a 55-cent increase in the district's education fund designed to stave off cuts.
Declining state revenue and rising costs have pushed Nauvoo-Colusa into deficit spending.
"The difference between revenue and expenditures is about $200,000 a year. If something isn't done, it will keep on snowballing," Superintendent Kent Young said.
The School Board has put the tax increase on the ballot and taken steps potentially to issue $1 million in working cash bonds if the referendum doesn't pass. Both alternatives mean higher taxes.
At a $2 tax rate in the education fund, the district is the lowest in the county and one of the lowest in the state. If the referendum passes, the owner of a $100,00 home would pay an additional $183.33 per year; the owner of a $75,000 home $137.50; and the owner of a $50,000 home $91.67.
"If you break it down daily, it's not a lot," Young said. "We understand people don't want their taxes to be raised, but we'll have to start looking at (cutting) programs, curriculum if this doesn't pass."
In recent years, Young said the district has made cuts and looked for savings on staff, utilities, equipment and transportation. He said more cuts would likely be to programs like sports or a teacher not required by law or the common core standards.
Three-fourths of the district's operating funds comes from local taxes. Young said state aid has fallen to $204,953 this year, compared to $788,652 in 2008.
The Illini West School Board hopes voters will approve an $8 million referendum, the local share for a proposed $26 million high school. The state will pay 68 percent of the cost.
Voters in November rejected a $9 million referendum which would have cost taxpayers 52 cents per $100 in assessed value. The district this time scaled back the project slightly to a cost of 47 cents per $100.
"We don't hear the questions about why do we need a building. I think it's agreed we need a building," Superintendent Kim Schilson said. "We can deal more with what the facility will look like, what the total project will be, how this will affect the students' education, how we can make sure we have a secure campus."
Illini West leases its current home from the Carthage elementary district and leases six temporary buildings to provide additional classroom space. District officials say the building needs major renovations and additions, but Illini West doesn't own the building and Carthage isn't interested in selling.
In trimming costs from November, Schilson said the district looked at items the state funds would not cover, such as parking spaces and lighting for athletic fields -- not things inside the facility that would affect student education.
Board members in July agreed to buy 40 acres owned by Terry Junk and just east of the football field and current high school parking lot for the new school. The contract with Junk gives the district an option to buy the site within five years, with the price per acre based on market value when the sale is finalized.
The site stood out because of its available space, its proximity to the city limits, easy access and utility infrastructure -- a key selling point to avoid spending an additional $450,000 on infrastructure and $30,000 a year to maintain a sanitary treatment facility. Also on the ballot, Hamilton voters will decide whether to permit the city to negotiate with a wholesale electricity supplier for residential and small commercial customers in the city.
"When you have a pool as big as the entire town, citizens should get a much better rate," Mayor Steve Woodruff said. "We're hoping to save over 20 percent for our citizens."
If the measure passes, residents can "opt out" and choose their own supplier or participate with the larger group.
ON THE BALLOT
Hancock County voters also will decide several contested School Board and municipal races on April 9:
º In Bowen, voters will choose between incumbent Linda Twaddle and Bethany Harrison for village clerk and between Brian Gaines, Sue Owen, Jeff Bruns and Kyle Cooper for three trustee seats. Gains and Owen are incumbents.
º Ferris voters will choose three trustees from five candidates -- Terry Vass, Judy Klein, James Schaller, Donald "Sonny" Byers and Michael D. Thompson. Vass and Klein are incumbents.
º Hamilton voters will choose between Steven Lowman and former mayor David Cornelius for the city's top job after Steve Woodruff opted against seeking another term.
º LaHarpe voters will decide races between Josiah Neff and Vicki E. Burford, an incumbent, for First Ward Alderman and between Brian Wayne Covert and Darrell E. Kraft, an incumbent, in the Second Ward.
º In Nauvoo, incumbent Mayor John McCarty faces a challenge from Beverly Reynolds.
º Plymouth voters will decide between incumbent Phyllis J. Smith and Judy Gordy for village clerk. Four candidates -- incumbent Gary Hurt, Tony Miller, Lily Breedon and Wendi Mattson -- seek three trustee seats, and incumbent Jim Mattson, Samantha Meek and Michelle Burton seek one unexpired two-year trustee term.
º In Warsaw, former mayor Alan Leffler, Perry Cameron and Tiffany Murphy are candidates for mayor. Voters will choose between Truman Phillips, an incumbent, and Joshua L. Smith for First Ward Alderman and between Richard L. Barber and Leslie Beeler in the Second Ward.
º Voters in the Carthage Elementary School District will choose three board members from five candidates -- Trish Markley, Amy Graham, Sherry Huston, Ryan Blue and Bradley D. Gooding. Markley and Huston currently serve on the board.
º Five candidates seek four seats on the Nauvoo-Colusa School Board. On the ballot are Doran Cox, Sandy Stevenson, Tina Poe, Michele Snyder and Tonya Little. Cox and Snyder are incumbents.
º In Hamilton, four candidates seek two unexpired two-year School Board terms for Montebello Township. Candidates are Wade Plowman, John Fox, Brad Hartweg and Rebecca Bliss. Hartweg and Bliss currently serve on the board.
º Five candidates seek four seats on the Southeastern School Board. Candidates are Steven T. Bruenger, Jeremy Stephens, Roberta "Bobbi" Smith, David Mark Cox and Rick Ramsey. Bruenger and Ramsey are incumbents.