Efficiency a Key in Unit 40 Plans for Future

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Published on October 28 2013 8:22 pm
Last Updated on October 30 2013 6:41 pm
Written by Greg Sapp

Effingham Unit 40 Superintendent Mark Doan said the district has to aim for efficiency as needs increase and dollars decrease.  That has led Doan to push for approval of a county tax swap that would provide a reduction in property taxes but more sales tax dollars and additional revenue for renovation or construction of facilities.

Superintendents in each district have agreed to lessen their property tax burden if the 1% sales tax increase is approved.

Doan told the Unit 40 school board Monday night that the District should push to retain the high school and Central School buildings and then decide whether to build or renovate.  He said cutting the number of District buildings would be a money-saving step.

He also said there are curriculum considerations, saying second and third grade teachers are in different buildings, lessening interaction.  He thinks more conversations between the teachers could lead to a better education for students. 

Doan also noted that Unit 40 has received more than $1.7 million less than promised from the State over the past three years, and that the District has already cut its budget by three million dollars so far.  To this point, preschool is the only program that has been cut.

Regarding the county tax swap, voters in Effingham County would vote on whether they want the swap enacted.  If the measure passes, property taxes would be reduced.  In Effingham Unit 40, a person with a residential property with an equalized assessed value of $150,000 would save close to $180 a year.  Beecher City district residents would save $167, Altamont residents more than $352, Dieterich residents just over $296, and Teutopolis residents more than $230.

In the meantime, it's estimated $5.3 million would be generated by the hike in sales tax revenue.  Close to $2.7 million of the revenue would go to Effingham Unit 40.  As far as the other public districts, the estimated revenue is as follows per year: Altamont Unit 10--$822,000...Beecher City Unit 20--$230,000...Dieterich Unit 30--$417,000...and Teutopolis Unit 50--$1.1 million.

The revenue generated by a county tax swap can only go for new construction or building renovation or paying off building bonds...it cannot be used for salaries or buses or other expenses.

Doan said the bonds issued to help pay for the high school building and to do health and life safety work at Central will be paid off in 2019.  Half of the funds realized from the tax swap would be used to retire those existing bonds, which would allow the reduction in property taxes.

There would be no additional sales tax revenue for St. Anthony or Sacred Heart since private school districts cannot revenue funds.  However, all county property owners gain some relief from local property taxes.

Doan's first thought is to retain Effingham High School and Central School and then decide whether to remodel or build to provide additional classroom space.  What classes are housed at Central would depend on what is built or remodeled and if new construction is the choice, where a new facility would be located.

Doan said there are other options to generate revenue, but a referendum would raise tax rates and extending building bonds would maintain current tax rates.  He said the tax swap is a way to lower property tax rates.  Another consideration, Doan said, is that everyone pays sales taxes and the burden doesn't fall just on landowners.  He also noted that 54% of purchases in Effingham County are made by people who live outside Effingham County, further sharing the load.  The same items subject to sales tax would be affected by the 1% sales tax increase, no additional items.

Other superintendents in Effingham County have shared similar information with their school boards.

Dieterich Superintendent Cary Jackson said his district would benefit through the abatement of property taxes, would lower property tax rates, could be used as a county development tool, and could attract more residents to Dieterich.  

The question must be approved by a majority of voters casting ballots in the county for the sales tax swap to be enacted.  If it's decided to seek approval of the tax swap at the March 18, 2014 election, the question must be approved to be on the ballot by the end of 2013.

Here's a conversation News Director Greg Sapp held with Unit 40 Superintendent Mark Doan following Monday night's school board meeting about the proposed tax swap...