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Ottawa Township High School superintendent Matt Winchester addresses the La Salle County Board on Thursday on the issue of the proposed 1 percent County Schools Facility sales tax increase. In back is La Salle County Board chairman Jerry Hicks.
OTTAWA — With just days before the election, a few school officials from La Salle County schools gave their pitch to the county board for the 1 percent County School Facility Sales tax hike. The full county board meeting Thursday gave school officials another opportunity to share in a public forum a 10-minute video lauding the sales tax hike as an opportunity for voters to pass a sales tax that will upgrade school infrastructure, create jobs and be used as a sales tax-for-property tax swap. Dan Joyce, superintendent of Serena schools, said if the sales tax passes his district intends to use 90 percent of the new revenue to pay down existing construction bonds. The remaining 10 percent would be used for property tax abatement and set aside for future projects. “It’s flexible, we don’t need to build anything right now, so we’ll give property taxpayers a break,” he said. The sales tax issue has become one of the most heated topics of this election cycle, locally. A facebook page titled “Vote NO on LaSalle County sales tax” is growing in popularity, meanwhile, some school officials and employees in various school districts have begun door-to-door campaign drives to pass the tax hike while creating their own facebook page titled “One Cent for Kids in LaSalle County.” If approved on Tuesday, the sales tax is expected to generate $10.2 million annually. That revenue will be collected by the La Salle County Regional Office of Education and then distributed to all public school districts in the county on a per-kid basis. If estimates are correct, that would mean about $564 per student. Revenue collected by school district may only be used to pay down existing construction bond debt and for school improvements. However, some organizations such as Illinois Policy Institute claim the added revenue can lead to teachers unions using the added revenue as a bargaining chip for additional salary and benefits due to school districts becoming flusher with cash. More salary and benefits for teachers would mean higher property taxes, thus negating any benefits realized by property tax abatement, according to the institute. School officials have argued against that notion, countering by saying the sales tax funding is necessary due to dropping property values and state revenue, which have resulted in higher property taxes. Ottawa High School superintendent Matt Winchester told board members the high school is the second most populous school district in the county. It also has one of the oldest school buildings, being built in 1914-1915. “Based on our size, we are in constant need of keeping our building up to code,” he said. “If our boilers go out, we’ll need $2 million to replace them and that would have to fall on property taxpayers unless this sales tax passes. It would be a great revenue source for us.” The county board took no action on the presentation as it was meant strictly for informational purposes. In other business: n Board members placed on file for public inspection its 2013 budget and tentative tax levy. The levy rate is expected to rise to .9476 from .9434 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. That’s about $2 more out-of-pocket on a $100,000 home.