DANVILLE – For the second time in two years, city and county voters defeated a 1 percent countywide increase in the sales tax rate to benefit area school districts.
The 1 percent county school facility tax garnered a narrow margin of support with Vermilion County voters Tuesday who cast 4,212 “yes” votes – or 50.47 percent – to 4,133 “no” votes – or 49.53 percent.
Voters in the city of Danville, however, voted down the measure that would have increased Danville’s sales tax rate to 10.25 percent. Danville voters cast 1,343 “yes” votes – or 34 percent – to 2,259 “no” votes – or 59 percent. The total city and county votes on the sales tax issue was 5,555 “yes” to 6,392 “no,” a difference of 837 votes.
In the two years since the sales tax issue last came before Danville and Vermilion County voters, the law that allows a county school facility tax to be levied has been amended to expand how that sales tax revenue can be used.
In addition to school improvements, the sales tax revenue also could have been used to pay for school security and mental health services.
Westville Superintendent Seth Miller and Salt Fork Superintendent Phil Cox both said they believed the coronavirus precautions were a factor that prevented more voters from turning out to the polling places and voting in support of the tax.
Miller said that although he believed there was more awareness of the sales tax issue and how the additional revenue could have benefited county schools, he said he couldn’t help but wonder the affect the coronavirus precautions had on voter turnout.
“It’s unprecedented what we’re dealing with,” he said. “It’s so hard to underestimate all the anxiety and precautions that have rolled out since last Thursday. I’m sure it impacted every issue (on the ballot).
“Preparing for elections is always hard work, but no one anticipated the reality we faced over the past week,” he said. “Of course we are disappointed in the outcome. Over the next few months we’ll try to figure out the impact the coronavirus crisis had on our election.
“But right now, we need to focus on what is most important — the safety our kids and families here in Vermilion County,” Miller said. “I can assure you that all school districts are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe. I urge everyone in our county to take whatever steps that must be taken to remain safe, and to help neighbors if needed.”
Cox said he was pleased that all seven precincts in the Salt Fork school district passed the sales tax measure by 62 percent, which was a larger margin than two years ago.
Overall, though, Cox said he was “disappointed” that voters didn’t approve the 1 percent county sales tax.
“We’ll have to take a long, hard look at our projects,” he said. “We have a really large heating project, and we would love to have air conditioning in the schools someday.
“We will have to make decisions in the best interests of the district and in the best interests of the taxpayers,” Cox said.
Prior to Tuesday’s primary, 56 of 102 counties in Illinois currently assess a county school facility tax, including Champaign, Edgar and Douglas counties in central Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Revenue would direct the county school facility tax dollars — which would have generated a total of $5.4 million annually — to the Vermilion County Regional Office of Education, where it would then be distributed to the local school districts.
Had local voters approved the county school facility tax, Danville District 118 stood to benefit the most by receiving about $2.5 million in new revenue each year. That’s because the amount of money a school district would have received would have been based on its student enrollment.
Estimates of how much new revenue would have been received annually by the other school districts were: Armstrong Township High School, $42,000; Armstrong-Ellis, $31,000; Bismarck-Henning, $273,000; Georgetown-Ridge Farm, $418,000; Hoopeston Area, $433,000; Oakwood, $449,000; Potomac, $73,000; Rossville-Alvin, $138,000; Salt Fork, $408,000; and Westville, $602,000.
Miller said Tuesday’s defeat of the sales tax measure was an indication to him that voters do not want to change the way area public schools are funded.
“We asked them, ‘Are you happy with the system we have now that relies on property tax to fund our schools?’” he said. “We had the opportunity to take the pressure off.”