Candidates questioned on school sales tax : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Candidates questioned on school sales tax|
|Oswego Village Board candidates have differing views on potential impact |
|by John Etheredge|
Candidates for the Oswego Village Board have differing views on the possibility of the Oswego School District one day levying a sales tax to help pay for school district operations.
Village board candidates were questioned about a school district sales tax during a candidates' forum hosted by the Oswego Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday evening at village hall.
The board election is April 9. Early voting will begin on March 25 and end April 4.
Participating in the forum were five of the seven board candidates: incumbents Scott Volpe and Judy Sollinger, and challengers Ryan Kauffman, Pam Parr and Kenneth Duda.
Steve Hatcher, chamber executive director, told the audience that a third incumbent, Jeff Lawson, was unable to attend the forum due to an emergency at his work.
Another challenger, Scott Finkenbinder, also did not participate. Finkenbinder's name will appear on the ballot, but he plans to move out of the village in early summer.
Sollinger said she was unaware that school districts had the ability to seek passage of referendums to create a sales tax until School Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt suggested it might be a possibility.
"I didn't realize the school district had that option and it's something I would like to look into a little more," she said.
However, Sollinger said she believes a sales tax for the school district "might hurt the village."
She explained, "Right now we are at a pretty good level as far as sales taxes. We are comparable to some (communities) around us or a little lower than some communities around us.
"I think while it might help the school district, it won't help the village as much as the school district. Obviously the school district needs help as well."
Sollinger said she is not sure if a sales tax for the schools would pass if it was placed on the ballot.
"People are paying so much now, they would hate anything that would raise taxes," she said.
Parr predicted a school district sales tax would have a "devastating effect" on the village.
"Right now our impact fees are between $9,000 and $20,000, higher than the surrounding areas," Parr said, adding, "I understand they're talking about putting the impact fees at about $39,000. That would be the highest in the state.
"A sales tax does not make any sense to me," Parr said, adding, "I think they (school district) officials have problems that I don't know how to handle. That's why I'm not running for that board."
Volpe said he has questions about how a school sales tax would work.
"One of the problems I see is that we have schools that are not only in our county, but in other counties and cities that won't be party to that sales tax," Volpe said. "So one of the things I'm concerned about is the fact that we're going to spend money in our town and it's going to be sent to other communities that aren't going to be participating back with their same revenue programs.
"I think that is the biggest problem the school district will have to overcome," he said, adding, "On the other hand it would be a good source of revenue for the district if we can find a way to do it fairly."
Duda said "nobody likes taxes" and said the tax "definitely would not be good for drawing businesses."
"I don't know if I would be in favor of an additional sales tax for the school district. But to me it certainly would be better than hitting the homeowners (again)," he said.
Kauffman noted that he understands the school district would not seek a very large sales tax, but also noted such taxes have a "freezing effect" on the economy.
"But we have to balance that against the notion that we have to have education. The teachers need all the resources they need to teach our students. That's vitally important. That's the next generation of doctors, lawyers and accountants...everybody."
Back Route 30 access
into Kendall Point
The candidates voiced unanimous support for the construction of an access drive off U.S. Route 30 into the Kendall Point Business Center. Currently the only access into the center is off of U.S. Route 34. However, an access drive could be built into the business center off Route 30 at the existing Goodwin Drive intersection.
Sollinger said she believes it would be an "excellent idea to put that road through."
Sollinger suggested the village could include the connection in a long-range capital improvement plan.
"This is something I think we need to put money aside for," she said, adding, "And I think it is our responsibility to help with that. I think it would also spur economic development in Kendall Point. There are lots there that can be developed and there are also a lot of buildings there that are not occupied."
"Anything that can bring business to this community should be looked at and an access road is important," Parr said.
"I think, again, the village should be looking at incentives, possibly a TIF district. I know a lot of people think a TIF district is a dirty word, but if you look at Geneva, Batavia, Plainfield, St. Charles, Aurora-all were done under very successful TIF districts," Parr said, adding, "So I think whatever it takes, we need to do it. We're cutting our own throats right now."
Volpe said he certainly agrees with the need for the access drive and that he has been working on it as a board member.
"There are some businesses showing interest (in Kendall Point) and that (the access drive) is one of the main questions," Volpe said. "I think one of the things we have to do is to find unique ways to bring together the incentives that will make this happen. There are lots of tools in the toolbox and I think the economic development community needs to make sure that whatever they come up with is fair to the taxpayers, shows immediate gain to the residents, but also doesn't put them at undo risk."
Duda said he believes village officials should contact the state, which owns and maintains Route 30 to "facilitate that situation."
He added, "I'll be honest, I'm not super familiar with that and what it would entail. I would need to research that a little bit more."
Kauffman said he also supports the installation of the access drive.
"It's my understanding of government is that its purpose is to create a framework where business can do what they do best: create revenue," he said. "Another road would create access and allow people to come to Oswego."
Questioned on priorities
The candidates were also asked to identify what their priorities would be as board members.
Sollinger said the village's downtown would be her top priority if she is re-elected.
"Our downtown has such potential. We could be a destination," she said.
"Obviously I think we also need to do something to bring in business and lower our taxes," Sollinger said, adding, "As a realtor I know there are people who are moving because they can't afford the taxes (here). I know some people who moved her from Missouri and they say they love Oswego, but they are moving back to Missouri because they can't afford to live here any more."
Parr said economic development would be "without question" her first priority, while a second priority would be the creation of an economic development plan.
"We are making forever decisions right now and it's really critical that we kind of get our act together, get some businesses here, get local jobs here and start moving forward," Parr said.
Volpe said his top priority would be to maintain a "pro-taxpayer approach."
"My property tax bill is about equal to my mortgage right now so we always have to be looking toward ways to drive down not only the property taxes charged by the village of Oswego," Volpe said, "The only way we can do that is by diversifying our tax base and growing our EAV. As we grow our EAV and diversify that will allow our property taxes to come down simply because more people will be paying into the system."
Volpe added the village must also have responsible growth.
"The big problem we had in the past is that we overburdened the school district and it cost them in building new buildings and new facilities for our children. We need to make sure we don't overburden the school district again," Volpe said.
Duda said he would like to focus on improving downtown.
"Oswego is the oldest city in Kendall County and being that I think our downtown should be a showcase in some way," he said, adding, "I realize the logistics of that aren't the greatest, but I think there are things that can be done to make it a very viable thing."
Duda said "taking care of business" would be another priority.
"A good example of that would be the gambling ordinance," he continued.
Last July the village board defeated a motion in a 3-2 vote to lift a 1935 ban on gambling in the village. Some local tavern owners had asked the board to lift the ban as other area municipalities have done so they could install up to five video poker machines each in their businesses.
"Why we would pass on helping business and pass on 'free' money? I don't understand that," Duda said.
Kauffman said his primary goal as a board member would be to speed up the development of the proposed Metra commuter rail station.
"I would like to see us lower the tax rate on property by expanding the tax base and I would like to see the re-starting of the Oswego Economic Development Corporation to further encourage businesses to locate here and expand the tax base," Kauffman said.