By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
All five school districts in Adams County are preparing to launch discussions on whether they should ask voters to reconsider passing a 1-cent sales tax for school facilities.
Adams County voters shot down the proposed "county school facilities sales tax" in November 2008 by a 2-1 margin. But officials from the five cash-strapped districts feel it may be time to take another look at the issue.
"It's something that we felt like we needed to bring back up and study again," said Diane Robertson, superintendent of the Mendon School District.
"Everybody is struggling with their budgets trying to figure out what more we can cut and where else we can try to find some more revenue. So this topic came up again."
Robertson said the issue was discussed during a recent meeting of superintendents from Adams and Pike counties. The Regional Office of Education brought in a speaker to talk about the tax and its potential benefits to school districts.
Robertson said the four superintendents from Adams County's outlying school districts -- Mendon, Camp Point, Liberty and Payson -- expressed an interest "in reviewing the information again" to determine if another referendum should be requested.
But the big question is where will the Quincy School Board come down on the issue. This is because putting the measure on the ballot would require affirmative action by school boards representing at least 51 percent of the county's students. Quincy alone represents 71 percent of the county's students while the four outlying districts collectively represent 29 percent.
"You have to have Quincy on board to do it," Robertson said. "Quincy has to be a player or everything's for naught for the rest of us."
Joel Murphy, the Quincy School District's business manager, was serving as interim superintendent when he attended the meeting of superintendents and heard about the proposal. In an interview, Murphy said the sales tax issue is likely to be brought up for discussion at a future Quincy School Board meeting, but he couldn't say when.
The Quincy School Board is about to undergo a major reorganization. Three new members will be seated at a special meeting Thursday. In addition, Quincy just got a new full-time superintendent, Steven Cobb, who started work Monday. Cobb, too, will need some time to get up to speed on the tax proposal and how it could impact the district.
"It's something that's going to be brought up as we look to the future and look at our facilities and what we want to do and what we need to do. It's an unavoidable topic," Murphy said.
"It's something that we seriously have to look at. It's not something we can just dismiss. It could bring in a pretty sizeable income that could pay for construction and renovation of our current buildings and new buildings without putting any more onto the property taxes. So it's something we have to consider."
When the school facilities sales tax was put before voters in 2008, proponents said the tax would raise about $6 million, with all proceeds split among the five school districts proportionately based on enrollment. The Quincy School District was in line to get about $4.2 million.
The Mendon School Board discussed the tax proposal at its meeting Wednesday night. Robertson said the Mendon School District would be in line to receive as much as $471,000 annually.
She said proceeds from the sale tax could be used to pay off construction-related bonds, which are now being financed with property taxes.
"It could take 83 cents off our tax rate, which would be a significant savings for our property owners," Robertson said.
When the proposal came up for consideration in 2008, the Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce opposed to the sales tax. Amy Looten, president, said she thinks the chamber would likely be opposed once again if the issue resurfaced.
"I would imagine that Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce members would oppose a sales tax increase of any amount at this time, regardless of which taxing body is asking for it," Looten said.
"Because we are located so close to Missouri and Iowa, our members are already competing with companies from other states who are allowed to charge a lower sales tax rate, and this puts our companies at a competitive disadvantage. It is possible that consumers will see higher prices in the near future because of the expected increase in health care costs from President Obama's Affordable Care Act and the possibility of an increase in the state minimum wage. Adding even more sales tax onto those prices may cause consumers to reconsider their purchases."
Robertson said the earliest the issue could be placed before voters is the March 18, 2014, election, which would require school districts to pass the necessary resolutions by Dec. 30 to get the issue on the ballot.
AT A GLANCE
Funds generated by the tax can be used for two purposes:
º Abating property taxes levied to pay for bonds issued for capital purposes.
º Paying for new facilities, additions, renovations, parking lots, roof repairs, energy efficiency improvements and other costs associated with facilities.
Money generated by the tax could not be used to pay salaries, operating costs, instructional costs, transportation expenses or for other things unrelated to facilities.
If approved by voters, the 1-cent sales tax increase would bump the local sales tax from its current 7.75 percent to 8.75 percent. It would be applied to all purchases in Adams County stores and businesses with the exception of cars, trucks, ATVs, boats, RVs, mobile homes, farm equipment, unprepared foods and drugs, including over-the-counter medicines and vitamins.