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Penny For Your Thoughts -- SPLOST A Fairer Way to Pay

With little fanfare ahead of next Tuesday’s election and one of the lowest early voter turnouts in memory according to the election office, residents should take a cue from world events and exercise their right to vote. And we encourage them to vote yes in support of the latest school system sales tax referendum.

Since November of 1996 when Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment approving the use of a one percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to make capital improvements for schools, school officials here have asked voters for three SPLOSTS. Tuesday’s vote will mark the fourth, and that penny tax is far and away the fairest way to pay for school projects. Previously money for improvements came solely from property tax coffers, with a limited number of people paying for something utilized by many.

School Board Member John Trammell has said SPLOST is a great tool for allowing the local school system to keep property tax rates low while meeting operating costs. Since a school board’s revenue is limited to either property taxes or sales taxes, Trammell said it makes sense to fund maintenance, new technology, and infrastructure with the sales tax.

If approved Tuesday, the SPLOST would likely save property owners almost a mil on their tax bill.

Recently installed School Board Chair Wendy Lowe also voiced support for the SPLOST. While new and sitting board members butted heads earlier this year on some issues, both sides agreed a yes vote on Tuesday’s SPLOST question is important for their operations.

Critics of sales tax referendums often say that those pushing them use scare tactics  -- “if you don’t give us the SPLOST, then we’ll raise your taxes.” The fact is, scary or not, this is mostly a true statement. One way or another the schools must pay the bonds on the high school (which it should be noted was built several boards and superintendents ago).

No new schools or other large scale projects are planned with this SPLOST, which is not a new tax but rather a continuation of the penny tax that’s been in place since Georgia voters approved the use of them in the late 90s. Language has been included on the SPLOST ballot referencing potential property purchases or buildings, but this was done as a safeguard according to school officials. If for any reason (can you say student population boom) the schools suddenly find themselves needing more classrooms in the next five years, they would have been unable to pay for them with SPLOST money if the language wasn’t included on the ballot.

If approved, the first priority for the school system is to pay the $4.48 million in bonds still owed for the high school built in 1996. In addition, SPLOST funds may also be used for much needed technology upgrades for students and teachers, something that has been neglected at the schools over the past two years due to the budget crisis.

SPLOST 4 is expected to bring in around $30 million over its five-year span and after paying off the high school bonds, additional projects amount to upgrading and maintaining campuses throughout the county. New technologies like white boards in more classrooms, upgraded computers, new roofs or new cafeteria equipment when spread across seven schools don’t take long to add up to major costs and SPLOST is a great way to keep those costs from being a one-sided burden on property owners.


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