Gibson City voters to consider 1% sales tax increase to fund new swimming pool

GIBSON CITY — Gibson City residents voting in the March 19 primary election will be asked to raise the city’s sales tax from 1% to 2% — a measure aimed at helping fund the construction of a new public swimming pool at the city’s North Park.

Mayor Dan Dickey said Friday that the referendum will appear on the March ballot. In December, the city council had approved an ordinance authorizing the placement of the question on either the March ballot or the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Prior to approval, Alderman Scott Davis, who serves as finance committee chairman, said the additional 1% tax rate “should more than cover” the 20-year payoff of a $7 million loan with a 6% interest rate that the city would secure to build a new pool.

Loan payments would total $610,438 per year, but Administrative Assistant Scott Shull said that, based on past amounts of local sales tax collections, the additional 1% sales tax should produce an average of $620,000 per year in additional revenue.

If the referendum passes in March, Shull said additional sales tax revenue would begin coming to the city as of June 1.

In this December 2021 file photo taken by correspondent Ross Brown, Gibson City’s public swimming pool is seen.

While the question to be put before voters would ask them to approve a tax increase “for expenditures on municipal operations and expenditures on public infrastructure” in general, Dickey emphasized that the referendum’s intent is first to fund a new pool. Aldermen agreed that if new revenues exceeded pool costs, however, the excess could be put aside for drainage projects.

Jan Hall, who served as secretary of the city’s Exploratory Pool Committee, said the city has already invested $167,000 to pay design fees to the Fehr Graham engineering firm of Champaign, and pool plans are ready to bid.

The mayor-appointed Pool Exploratory Committee began investigating pool design ideas and costs in 2019, originally hoping to keep costs around $3 million to replace the existing, noncompliant municipal pool. The first estimate was around $4 million, but engineers later advised that supply shortages and tight contractor availability following the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020 produced significantly higher costs for materials and labor. Davis said the most recent estimates put total costs between $6.1 million and $6.5 million.

The proposed 1% added sales tax would result in local sales tax being doubled to 2% charged on eligible local sales. If a referendum is approved by voters, the total sales tax rate collected by Gibson City businesses would increase from its current 6.25% to 7.25% of the purchase price.

Dickey noted that sales tax, as opposed to property tax, can spread costs among a larger number of people than just residents.

“The right thing to do is to bring it to a referendum,” said Alderman Susie Tongate, a member of the finance committee.