County school facility occupation tax to be on ballot

Kalyn Hayslett, Editor-in-Chief

 

The county school facility occupation tax will be on the voting ballot for the third time on Nov. 8.

This referendum is a 1 percent sales tax increase that will apply to merchandise items in the Coles County which will go to repairing local schools’ facilities and paying off bonds.

The needed repairs include fixing the schools’ plumbing; electoral work; heating, venting and air conditioning; sidewalks; parking lot; cracked walls and leaking roofs.

In past years, the referendum has been voted down.

The Citizens for Coles County Schools has created a campaign to convince residents to vote yes on the referendum, while the Coles Citizens for Progress Committee was made to convince residents to vote no.

Several attempts to reach a representative of the Coles Citizens for Progress Committee were unsuccessful.

Eastern alumnus Matt Titus, a member of the Citizens for Coles County School’s steering committee, said there are approximately $2.6 million worth of immediate facility damages.

There are 15 public schools in the Coles County district but Charleston High School, Jefferson Middle School, Charleston Middle School, Mattoon High School and Mattoon Middle School are in the most dire need for facility improvement, Titus said.

In 2014, Mattoon Middle School was hit with one of the worst roof leaks they have ever had.

“They had to close down an entire wing and set up a temporary classrooms in the gym,” Titus said.

Mattoon is expected to earn over $2.5 million a year, Charleston is expected a little over $2 million yearly and Oakland will earn about $130,000 annually from sales taxes if the referendum is approved.

The money will be distributed based the school’s enrollment and the amount of schools that are in each town.

According to Illinois state law, the money raised cannot be used to pay for faculty member’s salaries, pensions and instructional material like computers.

“Since 2012, Coles County lost $9.3 million from state budget cuts including $3.7 million in Charleston,” Titus said. “Passing this sales tax would be the cheapest way to make up for that money.”

Titus said getting the money would give residents local control

“We won’t have to rely on Illinois state reps to keep their promises,” Titus said.

Titus said the sales taxes would lower the financial burden for Coles County residents because visitors from out-of-state who attend summer camps at Eastern and parents who visit students throughout the year would help pay the tax.

If the referendum was a property tax increase, then only home and business owners would have been responsible for raising the funds.

Titus said if the sales tax increase is not passed, it would make the county vulnerable for future property tax increases.

“Voting no is an assurance that they will be an increase in property taxes,” Titus said. “The State Board of Education, Health and Safety reviews buildings, and when they make their assessment those improvements must be made. The school board has no choice.”

Facilities being improved and school bonds being paid off have the possibility of helping both community members and Eastern faculty and students.

“As a townie, the fate of EIU and Coles County are linked; we rise together,” Titus said. “What I think will help each other are better schools. Better schools attract more businesses and that will increase internship opportunities and work for Eastern students.”

 

Kalyn Hayslett can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]