In November 2007, the Peoria Riverfront Museum collaborative approached the County Board seeking $24 million in public funding to bridge the gap in financing for construction of the museum. At that time, the board voted to support the concept of the museum, and wheels began turning to identify ways in which to make this funding possible—the amount being such that drawing down the county coffers was not an option.
One possible solution that warranted further consideration was amending an existing law which allowed any county in Illinois to increase its sales tax rate—with voter approval—by one-quarter-percent increments up to one percent for public safety or transportation purposes. The amendment would expand the use of a sales tax increase to include construction of public facilities, such as museums and nursing homes, and would add a sunset clause option. The amendment was signed into law in November 2008.
Now the County Board had another decision to make: whether to ask the voters for a sales tax increase to help fund construction of the Peoria Riverfront Museum. At a special board meeting in January, the board did pass a resolution placing the following referendum on the ballot:
To pay for public facility purposes, shall Peoria County be authorized to impose an increase on its share of local sales taxes by one quarter of one percent (¼%) for a period not to exceed twenty (20) years? If imposed, the additional tax would cease being collected at the end of twenty (20) years, if not terminated earlier by a vote of the county board.
What does this mean to Peoria County residents and visitors if the referendum passes? The increase amounts to 25 cents for every $100 purchased. The sales tax increase will not apply to titled goods such as automobiles and boats, nor will it apply to food purchased for home consumption—in other words, food purchased at a grocery store. However, the increase will apply to food purchased at restaurants or bars. Using historical figures, the estimated annual cost per person in Peoria County for the sales tax increase would be $17. The tax will cease 20 years after its effective date unless voters approve another referendum.
Should the referendum pass on April 7th, the County Board will issue up to $40 million in revenue bonds for construction of the museum. The differential over the previously requested $24 million is due in part to an increase in estimated construction costs. The total cost over 20 years, including principal and interest, is estimated at $61.8 million.
Should the referendum pass, Peoria County will have no operational role with the Peoria Riverfront Museum. The County will, however, own the building itself—but not its contents—for the 20-year duration of the bonds. The estimated annual payment on the bonds is just shy of $3.1 million. If the sales tax increase fails to raise $3.1 million annually, the burden is borne solely by the bond holders. Should the increase bring in excess, the additional funds will be put towards public facilities as dictated by state law.
To help our constituents better understand the referendum and its financial impact, many County Board members are hosting town hall meetings in their districts during the month of March. One such meeting is March 9th at Bradley University’s Baker Hall Auditorium at 6:30pm. Additional meetings were being planned at the time of publication, and information for all town hall meetings is now available. Please call (309) 672-6918 or visit peoriacounty.org for dates and locations. iBi