Voters may see county sales tax increase on ballot again

By Andrew Maloney

Just when you thought all the votes were tallied .

The results from the Nov. 4 election in Champaign County showed that the proposed 1 percent sales tax increase to benefit school facilities was struck down. But with the remaining provisional and military absentee ballots still left to be tallied on Tuesday, there remains a chance that the initial election result could be overturned.

Still, local school officials in Champaign and Urbana aren’t counting on it.

“I haven’t heard yet. I would certainly not expect that to happen,” said David Tomlinson, president of the Champaign School Board. “I think the likelihood is extraordinarily low.”

Tomlinson said that if the tax had been enacted, Unit 4 would have used the proceeds to pay off about $15.6 million in construction debt as well as improve energy efficiency and renovate elementary schools.

Mark Netter, president of the Urbana School Board, indicated that he had not heard the results of the final count, but he also said the revenue generated from the sales tax also would have been beneficial for school construction in District 116.

“You provide a stable revenue source, and you eliminate the boom and bust cycle in school construction funding,” Netter said. “That allows you to plan ahead for years instead of getting a big pot of money every 20 years, fixing something up, then getting nothing for a while.”

As to why the residents of Champaign County decided to vote against the tax, Tomlinson said he wasn’t certain. However, he said he believes that the residents in the neighboring communities of Champaign and Urbana are still in favor of the referendum, even though the Champaign County as a whole voted against it. He also mentioned that the state of the economy probably played a factor in the initial vote.

“I think fears about the economy certainly come into play any time you use the word ‘tax,'” Tomlinson said. “So I think that’s probably the big issue.”

But while these officials aren’t expecting the tax issue to make a comeback at this moment in time, both believe that it will be back on the ballot at some point in the near future. Tomlinson said the superintendents and members of the school board in Champaign would meet to discuss the issue soon. He added that it would take 51 percent of the population of county school districts to put it back on the ballot, and that it would have to take the form of another sales tax referendum as per county law.

Netter said he would not be surprised if the idea was back on the ballot next year.

“I think the 14 school districts in the county are talking about that right now,” Netter said. “I think the initial discussion will be to try to put it back on the ballot in April.”

For now though, Tomlinson says the burden of funding schools will still remain with local residents even though the sales tax did not pass Nov. 4.

“Right, wrong or indifferent, the state doesn’t fund its fair share,” Tomlinson said.

“So it looks like it’s up to the local folks to fund their own schools because the state makes a lot of promises and doesn’t come through.”