West Branch will place income tax on ballot

BELOIT – West Branch school district voters can expect to see a .75 percent income tax issue on their Nov. 5 ballot.

“We’ve operated here for over a decade without any new tax money,” Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart said. “Reductions in state aid and the loss of federal money are more than we can absorb.”

The school board agreed Monday to place an income tax before voters with the idea that it’s more fair than a property tax since everybody pays, not just the people who own property. The board had already adopted a resolution last month finding it necessary to raise additional funds and asking for an estimate of the rates necessary to produce $1,954,316 per year.

As an example, the income tax levy, if approved, would cost a resident with an adjusted gross income of $35,000 per year about $262.50 per year.

Weingart said the school district previously had a 1 percent income tax in the 1990’s, but it was retired because more money was coming from the state at the time. He said no tax is ever popular, but an income tax seemed more acceptable to people because it was spread out over everyone.

He explained in a press release that West Branch has operated at the 20-mill floor, the lowest tax level allowed by the state, for nearly a decade, but with state funding cuts, operating funds have dramatically decreased. As a rural district, the majority of the money to operate the schools comes from the state.

The school district’s five-year financial forecast, which has to be updated twice a year, is showing a deficit in 2015. Weingart said everybody took wage freezes this past year and some positions were eliminated, but it’s not enough to make up for the losses.

“We consistently have had a carryover balance, educated our students for over $2000 per student less than the State average and worked hard to live within our budget. With an operating budget of nearly $20 million, the past losses and projected freeze of state funding are just too much to absorb without cutting into the courses and programs that make West Branch such an outstanding school district,” he wrote in a previous press release.

In the same press release, school board President John Wallace said the board believed that an income tax spreads the financial responsibility to all residents of the district. He said they’ve struggled with asking the voters to approve more funding and they’ve worked with the administration and staff to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

He said “we are not asking for this additional revenue to add programs. The additional funding will enable us to maintain the quality educational and co-curricular programs that we have.”

The next regular meeting of the board will be 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29 in the high school library.