EDUCATION

1% tax idea has merit, some say

DOUG BOOCK
Students leave Galva Elementary School on the last day of the 2011-2012 school year.

Tax increase proposals are often met with disdain by voters.

But the proposed 1 percent facilities tax Henry County school districts are considering presenting has merit, some say – including those who would pay it.

It's a mixed bag, with positives and negatives.

"As a Galva taxpayer, I know that over the next two or three years, my own property taxes would drop," Galva School Supt. Doug O'Riley said. "(But) I also know that as a local consumer, the prices I pay for items here in town and in the county, I'll be paying more for in taxes.

"For me personally, I think it will be about break-even, but I think the overall benefit to the school district and students would be good."

That's what school districts in Henry County are currently mulling. If enough support is found – districts totalling at least 50 percent of the student population in the county – the tax idea will go to the April 2013 ballot.

In short, it's a retail sales tax that would apply throughout Henry County and be paid by all who shop here, whether they reside in the county or not.

That includes people who buy things at places such as Good's furniture store in Kewanee; or businesses along Route 80 in Geneseo, Atkinson and Annawan; or towns like Orion and Alpha on Route 150; or Woodhull on I-74.

Closer to Galva, nearby residents in Stark County and Knox County would also chip in as they buy products in Henry County.

Renters – who don't pay property taxes – would pay the tax also.

It could also lower property taxes.

"My best prediction is that between the (wind) turbines, and potential sales tax proceeds, property taxes could drop 25 cents over the next two or three years as new revenues come in," O'Riley said. "But, if it does not pass, and those new repairs are needed for facilities, new tax could be levied to pay for repairs, meaning property taxes could go up."

The tax could help avoid the need to issue bonds if major life safety issues arise, such as huge facility projects or a combination of smaller similar projects. It could also reduce school districts' dependence on the state – something O'Riley and many other school officials statewide like.

"I think as a district we're more secure counting on local taxpayers, whether through property taxes or sales taxes, than on the whims of Springfield," O'Riley said.

Regarding whether the state would reduce its funding in Galva School District due to tax revenue the district will get from the new wind turbines and possibly the 1 percent tax, O'Riley said that's not likely.

"As far as the state goes, I think it would like to raid the surpluses that districts hold. Galva has little in surplus, as compared to many suburban school districts. With the sales tax, revenue would be spent on the improvements, not banked, so I do not think the state could touch it."