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Olympia school district will ask voters for a tax increase to save aging swimming pool

Superintendent Laura O'Donnell
Jack Podlesnik
Olympia superintendent Laura O'Donnell speaks at Monday's board of education meeting.

A referendum next March will determine whether the Olympia school district will have enough money to renovate the high school swimming pool and reduce the district’s education fund deficit.

This comes after the Olympia Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to present two ballot questions to voters. Board subcommittees recommended the full board pursue a referendum to increase property taxes after determining funds are currently insufficient to fix the pool and a second referendum to cut the district's $1.8 million education fund shortfall.

The cost for pool replacement and renovations is estimated to be almost $2.8 million, while a second option to fill the pool and use the space for other purposes would cost about $1.2 million. The pool is set to be used for for the 2023-2024 school year, despite much of its equipment needing repair or replacement.

The decision to add the referendum to the March ballot is based on community involvement, according to Superintendent Laura O’Donnell.

“I think that the realization that subcommittees had was this is such a huge investment for our community, that the community really needs to weigh in on whether or not we move forward and continue to invest our money in this manner,” O’Donnell said following Monday's meeting at Olympia South Elementary in Atlanta.

Not all of the information is out there yet.

For example, the board will decide the exact rate increase proposal in the coming months. It’s expected to be 20 or 25 cents per $100 assessed valuation. That would lead to an increase of up to $150 per year for the owner of a $150,000 home, O'Donnell noted.

She advised community members to keep on the lookout for more updates, noting the district does not intend to increase the tax rate in the education fund; 75% of that fund is used to pay staff salaries.

“I think it’s just going to be important for our community members and our taxpayers to pay attention over the next few months as we continue to share facts around our tax rate, around the education tax swap —- we could get this additional revenue without impacting tax rates for the ed fund increase,” said O’Donnell.

“So I would just encourage them to do that, to be open minded as they’re hearing this information and to look for additional information to be coming," she said.

The two questions will be on the ballot in the next primary election on March 19, 2024.

The Olympia school district includes much of western McLean County and parts of DeWitt, Logan, Tazewell and Woodford counties.

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Jack Podlesnik is a student reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.
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