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Oswego schools ponder new tax

Updated: February 16, 2013 6:29AM

A new sort of tax may be on the table — in the long term, anyway — for the Oswego School District, but homeowners in the district may be a little more amenable to the idea this time around.

The district’s finance advisory committee is in the first stages of discussing the possibility of a sales tax levied on goods sold within the Oswego School District, possibly around 1 cent. The idea was brought informally to the Oswego School Board on Monday night.

That potential sales tax would more progressively spread out the tax burden among residents in the district and allow the district to pay back outstanding bonds more quickly, which could help hold or even lower property taxes in the future, proponents said.

The proposal emerged after discussions in the committee concluded that bonds the district currently owes for major building projects can no longer be restructured in a way that would save Oswego School District taxpayers any money. At most, said board member Mike Scaramuzzi, they could be extended to create short-term tax relief, but paid over a longer term, which means taxpayers would eventually pay more in interest.

One way to save money would be to pay the debts down faster, which the extra revenue from a sales tax could do.

“This is one of the many things we’re looking at,” said school board member Brent Lightfoot. “We’re looking at a sales tax of one or two pennies, specifically targeted at debt reduction, bond payoff, future brick and mortar. We’re not looking at a sales tax to pay general operating funds. It’s money that would be well spent.”

To approve the sales tax, the board would need to send the matter to referendum. The earliest possible election that could include such a ballot question would be March 2014.

First, the school board would have to look at more detailed proposals, which would likely include certain exclusions for necessities, such as medication, farm supplies or groceries, which have remained exempt from similar taxes in southern Illinois communities.

“I think having the conversation is the first step,” said Superintendent Matthew Wendt. “Potentially later in the spring or summer, if the board wants to move forwards in the conversation at the community level, that’s something we could consider.”

Election ballot question

Meanwhile, the Oswego School District will be placing a different kind of referendum on the ballot in the April election, which will decide whether school board members can be elected at-large, or based on residency in a municipality or unincorporated area.

Currently, the Oswego School Board must, by state law, include at least two board members from unincorporated areas in the district. Those seats are occupied by Laurie Pasteris and Alison Swanson.

If nobody runs for a designated unincorporated spot on the board, the seat remains vacant after the election until the rest of the board appoints an unincorporated resident to the seat. That could become increasingly problematic as the population of the Oswego School District grows and more areas incorporate.

“The board could be forced to have a seat go vaacant, and at that point they’d have to go begging and pleading for someone from an unincorporated area to take a seat,” said Scaramuzzi. “The job of elected officials is to represent all of the residents of the district, not just from certain areas.”

The board voted 6-1 to place a measure on the April ballot that will ask residents to change the electoral system to an at-large system. Pasteris was the lone dissenting vote.

“I think that there should be representation from the unincorporated areas, but I’m one of those people that is from the unincorporated areas,” said Pasteris. “Because areas are not populated, it’s hard to have an election because we don’t have a neighborhood per say, but we have different needs that aren’t represented in the incorporated areas.”

Should residents pass the referendum, at-large representation would begin with the 2015 election.

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