MORRISON – With all 60 precincts reporting, Whiteside County voters soundly defeated a proposed 1% sales tax hike to support 911 services.
The unofficial vote was 15,114 no votes to 4,733 yes, or 76.15% against the referendum, and 23.85% for it.
Proponents of the measure said the tax was needed to help pay the rising costs of Whiteside County’s two dispatch centers, and eventually to build a consolidated center that will save millions of dollars down the road.
Right now, more than half of the $2.2 million it takes to operate the two centers each year – about $1.2 million – is being shouldered by Sterling and Rock Falls alone, and the system is running about $500,000 in the red, money that the county is making up.
The proposed sales tax would have taken the burden off the county and the Twin Cities, raising an estimated $4 million a year countywide through the sale of retail items, including fuel, restaurant meals and prepared food – items often bought by visitors to the county – thus adding $1 to every $100 spent.
It would not be charged on purchases of groceries, drugs (including over-the-counter medications and vitamins), cars, trucks, all-terrain vehicles, boats and recreational vehicles, mobile homes, farm equipment and parts, and farm inputs.
Officials planned to use the revenue raised to alleviate the rising costs of operating and maintaining the existing centers – one at the sheriff’s department in Morrison and the other at the Sterling Police Department – and the cost of salaries, benefits and training for about two dozen dispatchers.
The rest of the money was to be used to build one unified dispatch center, which proponents said would cut costs by reducing overhead and improve operations and cooperation among emergency agencies. A 2011 study estimated cost savings could amount to $14 million over 10 years.
County officials have said that If the referendum didn’t pass, it could mean the costs will be passed on to towns and agencies at the west end of the county – essentially, those outside of Sterling and Rock Falls – that are not currently contributing equally to the 911 budget.
This is the second time such a measure has failed.
The county sought to pass a public safety tax referendum; a measure calling for a half-percent increase was on the ballot in November 2020 but was defeated, 19,835 to 7,103.