After being rejected by voters in 2018, a referendum asking voters to approve a one-percent sales tax for public school facilities and other expenses is back on the ballot in the March 17th primary election in Vermilion County. But the proposal does not have the support of officials in Danville.
Voters in several Illinois counties have approved school sales taxes, including ones adjacent to Vermilion County, such as Champaign, Douglas and Edgar. But officials in Danville have resisted the idea, and opposition to the proposal was strongest in that city when voters voted it down in 2018.
Danville has the highest overall sales tax rate in Vermilion County. And the school sales tax referendum would raise it past 10%, compared to 7.5% in the nearby towns of Westville and Hoopeston.
In Westville, school district Superintendent Seth Miller argues that voters should ask themselves, do they want the local burden for public school expenses to fall entirely on the property tax?
“I think people (have) got to understand, do you like the current system that says everything we’re doing for schools is through, and on the backs of, homeowners and property tax payers?” said Miller. “Or is there a more equitable way to do it, maybe through sales tax, so all of that burden is not exclusively felt by homeowners?”
Miller says if the referendum passes, his district would use the new sales tax revenue to take over some of their bond payments, allowing the district’s property tax to be lowered by 13%, with a projected $250,000 a year left over to hire the Westville district’s first school resource officer.
In the Hoopeston Area School District, Superintendent Robert Richardson says they would use their sales tax revenue for building renovations, including air conditioning for their two grade school buildings, parts of which are more than a century old.
“Vermilion County is larger than just Danville,” said Richardson. “So I know that, I can speak for Hoopeston, is that, our kids are well deserving of a better learning environment.”
Danville District 118 school board president Bill Dobbles and superintendent Alicia Geddis did not return calls seeking comment.
Danville Mayor Rickey Williams Junior declined comment, and instead referred to a January article on the referendum in the Danville Commercial-News. That article quoted him as saying that since more than half of sales taxes in Illinois go to school districts, those districts should be good stewards of the money, and not try to raise the sales tax. The article also stated that school board President Dobbles said the board took an informal stand against the referendum at a meeting last August.
“We don’t want to raise taxes,” Dobbles told the Commercial-News.