You can scream it from the mountain top, ‘No new taxes.’”
That’s how Glenwood Community School District Superintendent Devin Embray describes the process of explaining the district’s Revenue Purpose Statement as voters head to the voting booths next Tuesday to decide the fate of the district’s 1-cent sales tax fund.
“This is not a new tax,” Embray said of the revenue purpose statement. “This is the state’s one-cent sales tax and they basically added a penny for schools and they added a penny for cities. This money is already coming in to the district right now.”
The existing 1-cent sales tax came as a result of a legislative change in school financing that saw the Local Option Sales Tax (SILO) converted to a sixth penny of state sales tax on retail purchases to benefit students in all Iowa school districts. The measure, now called the Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) Fund, requires districts to determine how they plan to spend the sales tax money and communicate that intention to their patrons via special election and its revenue purpose statement.
Embray said he understands voters could be leery of the word “taxes” and another vote, so soon after the district’s Instructional Support Levy passed on its third try last February. But he’s quick to point out the district already has this money and will continue to collect it whether the measure passes via a 50-percent majority or not. The vote simply determines how the district may use the existing fund.
“The (one-cent sales tax) funding provides an avenue to keep our buildings and our grounds and our technology in a forward moving fashion instead of a declining fashion,” Embray said. “These dollars are obviously a great gift we have so our responsibility on how we spend them is very important as well. I want people to know we’re being very frugal with how we spend. We’re paying down our property taxes with them, purchasing technology with them, we’re doing capital projects and infrastructure projects with them.”
Embray uses a homeowner analogy as a nuts-and-bolts definition of what the revenue purpose statement means to the district as an investment in itself.
“You’re in your home, paying your monthly mortgage and you have the ability, because of your paycheck, to put food on the table and get your basic necessities when a baseball breaks your window,” Embray said. “You have usable, disposable dollars in your care to fix the window. Basically what we’re saying is with this revenue purpose statement we're allowing us, as the home owner, the ability to maintain and improve the 'home' upwardly so it stays appraised high and improved in value.”
SAVE funds are legislatively restricted to school infrastructure improvement or debt service. In past years Glenwood had applied $1.9 million of those funds toward the new high school, resurfaced the high school track, installed new playground equipment, provided computer improvements around the district and remodeled Northeast Elementary. In addition, the district also increased payments on its debt service from $86,000 per year to $286,000 annually.
The district hopes to apply future funds to make heating and air conditioning improvements at Glenwood Middle School and Northeast Elementary, increase security measures at West Elementary and further improve technology district-wide.
The amount of money the one-cent sales tax has generated for the district has risen from about $50,000 in 2003 to more than $1 million this year, Embray said. Those numbers will vary annually, based on enrollment and how much sales were done in the state.
Currently the school district has about $700,000 in its SAVE fund, with more than $400,000 already ear marked for projects. Of that fund, 20 percent will go toward debt reduction, 20 percent to technology, 20 percent to buildings and grounds, 8 percent to software maintenance and 4 percent to the district’s fine arts programs. The remaining 28 percent of the fund will be carried over to the next fiscal year.
Without a current, voter approved revenue purpose statement the district’s 1-cent sales tax money would go entirely toward debt service reduction until the district’s entire debt is paid off, in roughly 2025, Embray said. Continuing his home owner analogy, Embray added that prospect would be bad news for the long term care of the district “home.”
“Without the revenue purpose statement, it’s like saying you’re going to take not only your mortgage, but your other disposable money you also have coming in from your paycheck and put that towards the mortgage too and I’m not touching my house for 20 years until I get my house paid off. It’s not a good long term investment. You’re house will depreciate in value.”
Voting will be conducted at the Glenwood American Legion Hall from noon to 8 p.m.