MOLINE -- A 1-cent school facilities sales tax in Rock Island County could provide a better, safer learning environment, boost the local economy and reduce school districts' reliance on property taxes, advocates said Friday.
Currently, sales taxes range from 6.25 percent to 7.5 percent among Rock Island County communities. Approval of the March 18 referendum would add 1 percent to those rates, providing schools with new revenue for district facilities projects and related expenses.
Should it pass, the tax would take effect July 1 and schools could see revenue by October. The money generated, an anticipated $11.5 million annually, would be divided among districts based on enrollment.
On Friday, members of YES Makes Cents For Students, a group promoting the measure, and Rock Island-Milan school superintendent Mike Oberhaus spoke at an editorial board meeting of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus.
According to Mr. Oberhaus, the tax's revenue projection was determined by Stifel, Nicolaus & Company based on Illinois Department of Revenue numbers for 2012 in Rock Island County.
Though not the biggest factor in providing an education, school facilities still are important, he said.
"Our kids deserve the best," Mr. Oberhaus said.
School security is an issue throughout the county, members of the group said. Building doors should be more secure, and the main entrances of some buildings need to be redesigned to better control the access of visitors.
Many of the county's schools were built before the safety concerns districts now contend with, said group member Mike Thoms, a retired Rock Island business owner.
The new tax also could be an economic driver, Mr. Thomas said. Capital projects would generate construction jobs. Good facilities also would draw new residents and spur business growth, he said.
Sarah Bohnsack, also a YES member, said the sales tax referendum would impose some of the local schools' costs onto people visiting the county, not just on residents who pay property taxes.
Using the sales tax revenue would let districts pay for projects as they go rather than issue bonds, Mr. Oberhaus said. Bonds force districts to pay interest; Mr. Oberhaus said his district uses up to 10 percent of its property tax levy on bond payments.
County school districts have announced they will not ask for the life-safety portion of the property tax levy -- about a nickel per every $100 -- should the sales tax referendum pass. Advocates say they believe the sales tax also will lead to less reliance on property taxes or tax levies in the future.
Mr. Oberhaus said future school boards could change how the levy is handled. But he encouraged residents to make their concerns known, should that happen in a district.
What would the sales tax look like?
The proposed 1-cent sales tax for Rock Island Schools would not be levied on all purchases. Exemptions would be:
-- Unprepared foods, such as groceries
-- Prescription and over-the-counter medicine
-- Vehicle and boat purchases
-- Farm equipment and parts
This is how the tax would look on taxable purchases:
-- A $50 gas purchase would add 50 cents.
-- A $7 fast food meal would add 7 cents.
-- A $450 television would add $4.50.
-- A $70 pair of shoes would add 70 cents.
School districts could only use the sales tax revenue on land, new facilities, additions, upgrades, safety, security, energy efficiency, facility project planning and paying off facilities bonds. The revenue could not be used for salaries, benefits, textbooks, computers or movable equipment.
Information provided by YES Makes Cents For Students.