BLOOMINGTON — Local school districts are asking Bloomington and Normal officials to boost their proposed sales tax increases to support education.
The town of Normal has approved increasing the sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8.75 percent, contingent upon Bloomington doing the same in a vote expected later this month. Bloomington District 87 and Normal-based McLean County Unit 5, however, want them to raise the tax to 9 percent and allocate the extra 0.25 percent to them.
When revenue for education is already down, the state Legislature is considering a two-year property tax freeze, a shift of the state's portion of pensions onto school districts and a new funding formula that could result in less revenue for local schools, said District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly.
Reilly and Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said both districts have pressing building and technology needs they already can't afford to address. Unit 5's transportation fund is operating at an $800,000 deficit.
Reilly noted the request is a fraction of what schools asked for in April 2014, when voters rejected a 1-percentage-point sales tax increase for school facilities by a margin of more than 2 to 1. Daniel added an increase by the cities might be used for personnel or transportation needs as well.
"I could certainly use more (money), but I'm trying to be cognizant that 1.25 (percentage-point increase) would put us at a total of 9, which is on par with Champaign and Macon counties," Reilly said.
Still, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday after speaking with some, but not all nine, aldermen that "at this point, there seems to be very little support."
He said some aldermen expressed concerns that "logistically this could doom the timetable" for getting the measure passed in time for the new sales tax to be effective by Jan. 1. Both municipalities must provide documentation to the Illinois Department of Revenue by Oct. 1; any later and the tax hike would take effect July 1.
“It was not our intention to bump it to a later date. It was to bring awareness to the needs of the schools,” Daniel said.
Renner added, "The other concern I've heard from council members is it was only a year ago that the schools' sales tax failed."
"It might look like the city and town of Normal are trying to override what voters expressed," he said.
Reilly said the proposed increase would make a future sales or property tax referendum for schools even less likely to pass, however.
"(If we) put that on the ballot again to raise that another percent to 9.75, I think no one would have the appetite for that," he said.
Because of the looming deadline, the Bloomington City Council will meet in special session Monday to act on the measure. Normal City Manager Mark Peterson said his council could meet in special session Sept. 28 if Bloomington passes an increase to 9 percent.
“We haven’t discussed it," Peterson said of passing a larger increase. "I couldn’t tell you what (the council thinks).”