Ex­plain­ing the next ed­u­ca­tion SPLOST

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - AM­BER PITTMAN apittman@cov­news.com

The New­ton County School Board re­cently ap­proved mov­ing for­ward with the ed­u­ca­tion Spe­cial Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax ref­er­en­dum, but that’s just the be­gin­ning. The BOE wants to con­tinue SPLOST, but some tax­pay­ers are du­bi­ous — so how does that one cent af­fect the stu­dents of New­ton County?

What is the ed­u­ca­tion SPLOST?

The ed­u­ca­tion Spe­cial Pur­pose Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax would al­low the school sys­tem to ask vot­ers of New­ton County (on a March 19 ref­er­en­dum vote) to col­lect a one per­cent sales and use tax used solely for the fund­ing of im­prove­ments for the schools.

But monies col­lected from SPLOST can­not be used for paying salaries, buy­ing sup­plies or main­te­nance, be­cause state law pro­hibits it. They can be used only to pay for cap­i­tal projects and to re­tire debt. All of the schools in New­ton County have ben­e­fited from SPLOST money in some way. Many schools have had ex­ten­sions com­pleted to make room for more stu­dents, Al­covy High School, Lib­erty Mid­dle School and Flint Hill Ele­men­tary School are some of the more re­cent schools built with the funds, and cur­rently, the re­place­ment for New­ton High School is be­ing con­structed us­ing SPLOST. Will it raise taxes?

The ap­proval of vot­ers for an­other round of the ed­u­ca­tion SPLOST would not re­sult in a new tax, but would be an ex­ten­sion of the cur­rent tax.

The res­i­dents of New­ton County have voted to ap­prove ed­u­ca­tion SPLOST three times in the past and the vote is good for a fiveyear pe­riod (2015-2019). The ex­ten­sion of the ed­u­ca­tion SPLOST would raise an es­ti­mated $55-57 mil­lion over that five-year pe­riod and also set the max­i­mum SPLOST at $75 mil­lion.

Also, in the school board’s Novem­ber work ses­sion, Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent for Op­er­a­tions Dennis Car­pen­ter told the board that NCSS has plans to ded­i­cate up to $30 mil­lion (or over half) of SPLOST pro­ceeds for prop­erty tax re­lief, which will elim­i­nate the debt ser­vice mil­lage dur­ing the five-year pe­riod. It would also pro­vide tax re­lief to prop­erty own­ers in the county, since the ex­ist­ing bond mil­lage levy would be elim­i­nated dur­ing that five-year term of the ed­u­ca­tion SPLOST.

For those with­out stu­dents in the school sys­tem, ed­u­ca­tion SPLOST still ef­fects them by keep­ing ad valorem taxes lower. What if it doesn’t pass?

The school board would forced per state law to in­sti­tute a bond debt ser­vice mil­lage for the cur­rent bonds out­stand­ing. The board would likely have to raise main­te­nance and op­er­a­tions prop­erty taxes. Ad­di­tion­ally, im­prove­ments needed at schools would most likely have to re­main un­done be­cause of a lack of funds to make that hap­pen. How would this help the stu­dents?

The cur­rent plans for pro­ceeds from the ed­u­ca­tion SPLOST are ren­o­va­tions and gen­eral im­prove­ments at the schools in the county, new con­struc­tion, equip­ping the schools in the county, im­prov­ing sys­tem-wide tech­nol­ogy and pur­chas­ing new school buses.

“For stu­dents and staff, con­tin­u­a­tion of this spe­cial pur­pose sales tax means new (and safe) buses, fa­cil­ity re­pairs and ren­o­va­tion as needed, lim­ited new con­struc­tion as war­ranted, up-to-date tech­nol­ogy so that our stu­dents are not left be­hind in a dig­i­tal land­scape that is chang­ing school­ing and the work­place,” said Su­per­in­ten­dent Gary Mathews in an email Fri­day.

“For tax­pay­ers, I be­lieve it means bet­ter and safer schools, pre­serv­ing cur­rent in­vest­ment and mak­ing sure that the sys­tem’s in­fra­struc­ture of build­ings, buses and tech­nol­ogy re­mains vi­able. An ad­di­tional pos­i­tive for prop­erty own­ers in New­ton County is a unique as­pect which will re­duce their tax bur­den as pro­ceeds from SPLOST will bring the school sys­tem’s debt ser­vice mil­lage rate down from ap­prox­i­mately 1.9 mills to zero for a five year pe­riod from 2015 through 2019. Given the above, I be­lieve we have con­structed a “win-win” for tax­pay­ers and stu­dents and staff.”

The board ap­proved the ref­er­en­dum. They now wait for So­cial Cir­cle to ap­prove the ref­er­en­dum be­fore they be­gin ad­vo­cat­ing pub­licly for ed­u­ca­tion SPLOST.

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