As the date for the penny school sales tax nears, Storm Lake school officials are trying to educate rather than convince.
"I've been trying to talk to the service organizations, and of course, we are trying to encourage all of our parents to get out and vote," said Storm Lake Superintendent of Schools Bill Kruse. "We aren't trying to tell people how to vote, just giving them the information and hoping the do go to the polls."
The School Infrastructure Local Option (known as SILO) tax, adds a penny per dollar to retail purchases. If approved in the voting on December 16, the tax would be in place for 10 years, and could only be renewed by a public vote.
All eligible Buena Vista County voters may take part in the election. Those who wish to register in time for the election may do so by going to the auditor's office at the county courthouse no later than December 5.
In Storm Lake, the revenue is earmarked for helping to build a central elementary school, a performance auditorium, possible additional payments to the middle school bond and property tax relief. Storm Lake stands to receive about $750,000 per year, as the tax is projected to produce around $400 per student. Revenue would go to all schools in the county at the same per-pupil rate for their students from inside the county, including Albert City-Truesdale, Alta, Aurelia, Galva-Holstein, Laurens-Marathon, Newell-Fonda, Schaller-Crestland, Sioux Central, South Clay.
Kruse said that it is difficult to get a read on public opinion. A modest group of parents from the middle school and elementary schools has expressed an interest in helping to promote the vote, and no organized opposition has been heard.
"When I talk to a group, it seems once the information is given to them, there is more support for the issue than previously," Kruse said.
The sales tax is intended largely to reduce the pressure on property taxes by creating an alternative revenue stream, he stresses. "I would think it may be well received by those who own property for that reason. The other thing that is important is to know what isn't taxed - it does not apply to groceries, pharmaceuticals, autos, major farm equipment and seed, or hotel and motel stays."
Kruse doesn't expect everyone to support the SILO tax. "Whenever you hear tax, you think of it as an additional tax. That is true, but in this case we hope people will understand that in some respects this is actually a replacement of property tax that would be paid in the future.
Those who have young children may well support the SILO tax in hopes of seeing a better elementary school constructed.
If the measure passes, it will probably be three years before that project gets started, as the schools bank money to buy down the cost, rather than building immediately and having to pay off all the interest on the bond cost.
"I think people can see the value to an elementary school, and realize that it can be an attraction to our community. I have had people tell me they chose to move to Storm Lake over another community because of the middle school we have build here," Kruse said.
The elementary school, which could combine all of the mainstream K-4 students in the four existing schools under one roof, is projected to be built near the middle school, on school-owned land south of Hyland Drive.
Not only would the structure replace some aging buildings that were not constructed for small students, it would provide more efficiency and team teaching opportunities, school officials feel.
A new performance auditorium, probably to be located on the high school campus, is also planned for funding from the SILO tax. Fine arts students currently have to use gym floors or the aged South Elementary auditorium for their events.
While the auditorium is a strong goal, the schools want to make it clear that the elementary is the first priority. Barring something like a large donation from a private entity, the auditorium would have to wait until after an elementary project is built, Kruse said.
If the SILO tax does not pass, the outlook is poor for both projects, the superintendent suggests.
"We certainly could not get the elementary project until the middle school is paid off (projected for 2010), and every indication is that we couldn't get another bond issue passed with the 60 percent supermajority requirement."
Such special elections typically draw only a small fraction of the eligible public to vote. That implies both opportunity and danger for the sales tax proposal, Kruse said. "There are a certain percentage that are going to come out for a local election, and vote one way or the other. It's those people in the other group, the silent 80 percent, that we need to get to the polls. They can decide it either way."
Storm Lake isn't alone in imposing such as tax. In fact, people who choose to shop out of town are probably already paying the same tax for schools in other cities without even noticing it, Kruse said.
"They are spending that seventh penny already when they shop in Sioux City, Fort Dodge, Des Moines. And Clay County now has the tax and will be putting it into place as well. If you go outside the county, you are likely already paying the SILO tax to someone."
To date, 55 of Iowa's 99 counties have passed the tax, covering about six out of ten public school students.