SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield School Board has approved putting a 1 percent countywide sales tax question on the November ballot.
If approved, money from the tax would be used to improve school facilities at districts across Sangamon County.
Springfield School Board President Mike Zimmers explained the vote was the first step in the process. For the question to appear on the ballot, school districts representing more than 50 percent of the students in Sangamon County will have to vote to put the issue on the ballot. About 48 to 49 percent of Sangamon County students are in District 186, which means that just one other Sangamon County school board needs to OK the plan for it to appear on the ballot.
Zimmers doesn't see a problem with at least one other district voting to put the question on the ballot.
"I have heard from every school board in the county, except for one," Zimmers said during Monday's meeting. "They are very excited that we're moving in this direction. I know this is something county schools have wanted to do for quite some time. They have kind of been waiting on us to pull the plug."
Monday's vote to put the question before voters was 6-0. Board member Jamie Sisti was not at the meeting.
The resolution approved by the board states the tax would provide revenue "to be used exclusively for school facility purposes."
In December, Springfield school officials presented a facilities master plan to the school board that called for renovations to all buildings across District 186. The estimated cost of the plan could be well over $300 million, which would be spread out over 25 years.
Springfield Superintendent Jennifer Gill said the district has been reaching out to people to get their opinions on the district's buildings.
"We've had nine specific sessions where we asked community members to come in and talk to us about our school facilities and what they want to see in our future. We know that over 50 percent of our buildings are 80 years old or older. We have a lot of facilities needs," Gill said.
According to a survey that asked people to prioritize needs within the district, the highest priority at the elementary and middle school levels was safety. Upgrading heating and cooling systems, adding modern classrooms to replace mobile units, improving and upgrading plumbing systems and replacing school buildings in too poor of a condition to renovate were just a few a of the other high-priority needs.
At the high school level, the top priorities included renovating Lanphier and Springfield, modernizing classrooms and the auditorium at Southeast and building an auditorium at Lanphier.
Gill said the district could also look at health and life-safety bonds to cover the costs of some of the projects.
Last month, the Springfield School Board heard from Tom Crabtree, director of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company. He said the 1 percent sales tax, based on estimates from the Illinois Department of Revenue, might generate about $20.8 million annually.
Of that amount, District 186 would get approximately $10.1 million annually, and the rest would be divided among the other districts, based on the number of students in their district. Ball Chatham could get about $3.2 million, Riverton and Williamsville would get about $1 million each and Rochester would get about 1.6 million, according to estimates.
If approved, the new sales tax would not be applied to cars, trucks, ATVs, boats, RVs, mobile homes, unprepared food, drugs (including over-the-counter and vitamins), farm equipment and parts, farm inputs and services.
In February, the Springfield City Council approved a 0.25-percentage-point sales tax increase to help fill a hole in the city budget. The vote raised Springfield's sales tax rate from 8.5 percent to 8.75 percent.