BELOIT — Local West Branch schools will ask voters next week to approve new taxes.
The five-year 0.5% Earned Income Tax demand would generate $1.3 million in new revenue, if passed on November 8. The district has not enacted new permanent taxes since 1976.
District officials said the money would be used on safety upgrades, mental health resources, and to locate trades-based career programs and continue to provide preschool and daycare services at Knox Elementary.
As with most tax issues, this electoral issue has its supporters and its opposition. We asked some West Branch voters what they thought of the income tax claim:
Why they oppose it
Those who oppose the issue say it is not time to ask for more taxpayers’ money.
Smith Township resident Rose Custar said she would not support the measure, citing rising gas and grocery prices as the main reason.
“I can’t get a penny more out of my budget,” she said.
She also questioned the district’s plans for new tax revenue.
For example, Custar said she doesn’t think Knox School — which closed in 2020 — should have reopened this fall for child care and preschool.
And, she said she doesn’t think it should become home to a new career technology program.
“We already pay tax for the Canfield Career Centre,” she said. “If these businessmen want the building, then write the checks.”
Celeste Kirksey-Gallagher, also a Smith Township resident, agreed with Custer. “I don’t think Knox is sustainable. The school shouldn’t have been built in the first place, but they’re not listening.”
Kirksey-Gallagher, who had four children who graduated from West Branch, has been quite open about her opposition to the tax demand, sharing her thoughts on Facebook.
“I love my West Branch, but I believe in accountability,” Kirksey-Gallagher said in a phone interview. “I don’t think Mr Jones should have to pay for Mr Smith’s child to participate.”
She also thinks the district has the resources to make schools safer, but, she said, “I don’t think they’re properly trained.”
Kirksey-Gallagher said there are “many social services” at the county and state level that could respond to mental health issues in the district.
why they support him
Those who support the issue say there is no bad time to invest in student safety and mental health.
If passed, the labor income tax would apply only to those who receive Form W-2 or self-employment income. It would not affect property taxes or other income, such as retirement or social security.
“It’s not a big ask,” said Susie Tubbs of Homeworth. Her daughter graduated from West Branch last spring. “They were thinking about variable salaries in our community. It’s a small levy.”
Tubbs added: “It’s always a good time to invest in the safety of our children and to hire and pay good educators. It’s always a good time to invest in our young people.”
Butler Township resident Kyle Fannin, a nurse and father of three, said he supports the tax demand because of its safety and mental health components.
“They resonate with me,” he said.
For example, Fannin said COVID-19 had other “non-medical implications” that were difficult for students, putting more pressure on them emotionally and academically.
“I don’t think we realized it at the time,” he said.
Continuing, Fannin said, “A lot of people ask me if it’s because of my background? No. It’s because I have kids. I think the money will be well distributed.”
Fannin dismissed an idea he said some opponents are using to vote against the tax demand. He said opponents will cite the track record of previous district administrations.
“I heard someone today say that 20 years ago they shouldn’t have done this,” Fannin said. “Well, we have a new administration and a new school board. That can’t be highlighted enough.”
What the neighborhood says
Following interviews with constituents, we asked the district for a response to concerns about the need for new taxes.
“The needs of our students are immediate,” Superintendent Micki Egli said. “Since the pandemic, the number of cases from our school counselors has doubled. The mental and social needs of students must be taken into account today. The safety of our students cannot be put on the back burner.”
Regarding Knox School, Elgi said the space has “already shown its value to the district and the community through our ability to increase our preschool enrollment and in-demand child care rental space in building. This year, our kindergarten was able to double enrollment.”
“Additional space at Knox gives us the ability to host on-demand professional technical education in our district, serving students who may not be willing or able to leave our campus for further professional technical study to a number of reasons – personal, social or lack of space in other programs as the demand for these skills continues to increase,” she said in an emailed statement.
Egli said Knox has a direct impact on the local economy, providing services to working families to care for young children, and the career technology program creates “opportunities for students to learn the skills for trades that local industries demand, keeping well-paying jobs in our community.”
And finally, Egli said taxpayer money would allow the district to upgrade security equipment — such as access controls, improved lighting and additional cameras — for the entire district and to have full-time school resource officers in each building, all week.
Contact Benjamin Duer at 330-580-8567 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter @bduerREP.