WASHINGTON — It's back.
Just five months after a 1 percent Tazewell County school facilities sales tax was rejected by voters — the third defeat of the measure since 2009 — the question will be on the April 2 ballot.
"There's a critical need for funds for school facilities in our county," said Dale Heidbreder, superintendent of the Central School District in Washington.
"Plus, because we're a tax-capped county, the sales tax is the best way we can provide property tax relief," he said.
Revenue from the sales tax can be used to pay for facilities work in public schools, or make payments on construction bonds. The latter lowers property taxes.
There's been a concerted effort over the past several weeks by Tazewell superintendents, school board members, teachers, and chambers of commerce and business leaders to educate voters about the sales tax.
The sales tax was soundly defeated in 2009 and 2013, by 68 to 32 percent and 60 to 40 percent margins. But it lost only 52 to 48 percent in November, or 26,022 to 24,514, with a 57.6 percent voter turnout.
Supporters believe a vigorous education campaign about the sales tax and pledges by school boards to provide property tax relief resulted in the closer vote in November, so they're using that strategy again.
"When you say tax increase, some people are immediately turned off," Heidbreder said. "But we feel if we can educate people about how the sales tax revenue can be used, and how the sales tax would improve our schools and hopefully encourage people to shop locally and not online, perhaps we can get them to consider supporting it."
School boards representing at least 50 percent of a county's public school students must pass resolutions to get the sales tax on a ballot.
Several Morton School Board members struggled with their approval on the April 2 vote, saying another vote was too soon after the loss in November.
"Placing the issue back on the ballot might be perceived as insensitive," Board President Tom Neeley said during a January meeting.
But the board eventually relented.
For the second election in a row, the board pledged if the sales tax passes to freeze the K-12 district's property tax levy for one year and use revenue from the sales tax to pay off bonds for an elementary school construction project completed in 2017 for four years.
According to the district, the owner of a $200,000 home would see an estimated $200 per year reduction in the district's portion of his or her property tax bill the first four years after the sales tax is passed.
There would be savings of about $60 each year after that as a result of the property tax freeze.
Over 10 years, according to the district, the owner of a $200,000 home would see a $1,160 property tax savings. The numbers jump to $1,790 for the owner of a $300,000 home and $2,430 for the owner of a $400,000 home.
"I love to shift costs from property taxes to user taxes whenever we can," board member Bart Rinkenberger said during the January meeting.
The district's 15-year facilities plan calls for $25 million in needed repairs, maintenance and renovations. Sales tax revenue would be used for that work.
In Heidbreder's K-8 district, sales tax revenue would help pay off bonds for a $12 million construction and renovation project approved by voters in March 2018 that will address space issues in the district's two schools.
At nearby Washington Community High School, sales tax revenue would help pay off bonds for a $6 million project underway to build an addition for the music department and install new bleachers at Babcook Field.
In K-8 Pekin Public Schools — with its 11 schools covering 575,000 square feet of space and 3,700 students — sales tax revenue would pay for an estimated $16 million in upgrades needed over the next 10 years as part of a long-range facilities plan, said Superintendent Bill Link.
In the short term, Link said, there are plans to work on building entrances, parking lots and drop-offs to make them more secure and safer.
"We need to do renovations in our district, just like we do in our homes," Link said. "Our newest district building is Wilson Intermediate School, which was built in 2000. Most of our buildings date to the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s."
School districts would receive sales tax revenue based on the number of students in the district.
For the Morton School District and Pekin Public Schools, the revenue would be about $2 million annually. For the four school districts in Washington, the total would be close to $3 million.
Some $13.7 million would have been generated by the sales tax in 2017.
A coalition of teachers unions, chambers of commerce and business leaders has joined the sales tax campaign in this go-round.
One of the group's information tools is a website, powerofthepenny.net.
"A lot of schools in our county are outdated," said Sean Kerwin, president of the Washington Education Association. "I suggest people contact their school district and go take a look at their schools."
Fifty-four of 102 counties in Illinois have passed the sales tax, including five of the six counties that border Tazewell (Peoria, Woodford, Logan, Mason and Fulton). Only McLean among the six border counties does not have the sales tax.
That's one of the talking points being pushed out by Tazewell sales tax supporters. Here are some others:
• An estimated 20 to 30 percent of sales tax revenue would come from people who do not live in Tazewell County.
• Unprepared food, medications, vehicles, boats, and farm equipment and parts are not subject to the sales tax because they are not taxed.
• Revenue from the sales tax can't be used for school district salaries, benefits, buses, furniture, fixtures or other operating expenses.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.