Area school districts back SL's tax vote plea

Monday, August 28, 2006

The School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) tax has been a boon to school districts in the county since it was first put into play in 2003.

The program adds one cent in sales tax per dollar pent in the county and has been generating some $1.6 million which is distributed to the school districts in the county.

With a new communitywide elementary school on the horizon, Storm Lake Community Schools officials feel that the tax should be extended as far as possible in order to pay off the construction costs. Not wanting to force the issue, the district has hoped others in the county would join them in the call for the sales tax election.

Area superintendents this week told the Pilot-Tribune that they too would like to see the tax extension.

The revenue from the tax is distributed to schools on a per pupil ratio, according to the Iowa Department of Education. Districts currently receive approximately $470 per student per year.

The monies may be used for three purposes:

* Property tax relief. This could occur by using revenues from the local option sales and services tax to pay for a school district's bonded indebtedness. Normally, bonded indebtedness is paid by property taxes.

* School construction costs. Many times, these costs are paid for by using property tax dollars as well.

* Purchase of equipment Items. One major equipment item that schools could purchase would be school buses.

According to 2005 reports, all but two districts in the state participate in this program.

The Storm Lake School District is looking to extend the tax which was initially set up for 10 years. Such a vote is considered vital to building the new elementary.

Other school districts in the county would welcome the extra funds as well.

Fred Maharry, Alta High School Superintendent, said the extra money has been available to take care of the school's "needs not wants."

"We've used the money in a variety of ways," he said. This summer, a $75,000 tuck-pointing project at the high school was completed. "Our building is in better shape structurally," he said. "We're excited."

New lights were installed in the classrooms at the elementary building this summer which was also paid for with SILO funds.

A land purchase near the middle school was paid for with the monies as was grading and seeding. A sprinkler system was also added to the ground which will be used as a practice field and/or soccer field.

The historic Roxy Theatre has also seen improvements thanks to the SILO funds and the technology has been kept up-to-date.

The list of projects also includes the resurfacing of the track, the purchase of new lunchroom tables that were "definitely needed" as the old tables were becoming "dangerous", the purchase of a new bus and the payment of a new roof on the multipurpose room at the elementary.

The Alta district also has used $135,000 for property taxes. "That's another big advantage of this program," he said, adding that everyone benefits.

"A lot of these things just wouldn't have been able to be done without it. This has been a very important source of funding for maintenance and improvements to our buildings."

Dan Fraizer, new superintendent at Sioux Central, has become familiar with the advantages the district has seen thanks to the SILO funds.

There have been a number of maintenance projects completed but most recently a large amount of dollars was used to replace mortar and brick on the building due to settling.

The district is currently putting up a new bus barn on the school grounds, to replace a structure that was off-campus.

In the future, as the district is "dealing with growing enrollment" improvements and upgrading the preschool will be completed.

"I believe this program is a benefit for the school and the local tax payers," Frazier said.

Superintendent Ron Day with the Newell-Fonda School District commented that the school board has not expressed any opposition to the extension of the program, feeling that it will be around for a "long time."

The district has used the SILO funds for a number of projects including the purchase of carpeting, playground equipment and updating the computers and technology system at the schools.

With N-F's future being looked at closely including discussion of a regional high school, "We have no long-term things planned for," Day said. He added that the SILO funds can be kept and used at a later time, even if a new sharing program is entered into.

A vote is not scheduled as of yet but when it does come along, the superintendents hope their residents will vote - and consider where else they could get so much for a "penny."

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