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Superintendents Make Case for County Wide Sales Tax

STANFORD - Saying yes to an increased tax is not often a popular choice. but if you ask the school districts of McLean County, a 1 percent tax could be the elixir for what ails...
STANFORD - Saying yes to an increased tax is not often a popular choice. but if you ask the school districts of McLean County, a 1 percent tax could be the elixir for what ails the schools.

For Dr. Gary Niehaus, explaining the need for a county wide sales tax is simple.

"Obviously we're a growing district and we need classroom space. So that's new buildings, and renovations and putting geothermal in and doing those types of things that we have to do when we grow," said Niehaus, Unit Five’s superintendent.

But for District 87 Superintendent, Dr. Barry Reilly, a steady student population has turned his focus to creating stability in the buildings themselves.

"We have all kinds of infrastructure needs. We have new roofs that we need to put in. We have tuck pointing, we have to do classrooms, floors, lights, ceilings. All that stuff over time, you just constantly have to keep up," said Reilly.

And with federal and state funding drying up, many districts are borrowing money to make repairs. A new sales tax could mean $16 million more annually for McLean County Schools.

"I think what that reflects is a growing recognition across the state that you have districts that are trying to identify another revenue stream, that is not reliant on the state," said Mark Jontry, regional superintendent for McLean County.

Andrew Wise has been busy in his first year as the superintendent of Olympia Schools, dealing with a number of repairs throughout the schools. But he $2 million less from federal and state funding to work with than the district had two years ago.

He says the extra funding could be huge for this 42 year old building, especially on this roof that's seen its share of wear and tear.

"For the Olympia School district, the county wide sales tax is projected to produce about a half a million dollars for us annually that we could use in our facilities," said Wise.

Issues like security and heating are primary priorities. With some upgrades, Wise says the school could save about $30,000 annually, but other repairs across the school are just as pivotal for the superintendent.

"It would help protect the investment that our community members have already made in our school facilities," said Wise.

The county-wide sales tax would not apply to things like automobiles, medications or unprepared foods. The vote for the county wide sales tax will be on the March 18 ballot.

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