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Voters approve E-SPLOST renewal

By: Andrew

Carroll County voters showed overwhelming support Tuesday for the continuation of the education special purpose local option sales tax.

The tax will continue at least another five years as 73 percent of voters approved the measure. Educators expect the E-SPLOST to bring in up to $98 million to the three local systems. Under the initiative, school districts receive a percentage of one penny of every dollar spent. The current SPLOST has been in place in Carroll County since 1997.

“We were hoping for over 70 percent, and we’re very excited that the voters showed so much support for the SPLOST,” said Carroll County Schools Superintendent Scott Cowart. “We think that makes a good statement that we’ve done a good job, and we plan to continue to do a good job.”

Also on Tuesday night, Dr. Mike Rothschild held on to the Carrollton City Schools at-large seat, defeating Carolyn Aycock by  finishing with 61 percent of the vote. Rothschild, who is also the school board chairman, said he looks forward to continuing his work with district board members.

“I’m very humbled by the show of support I received from the community,” said Rothschild. “It shows that what we’ve worked so hard to accomplish has paid off. I can’t take full credibility for winning this race because my wife, Christy, has worked harder than I have throughout this whole campaign.”

Carrollton school board incumbents Greg Dothard and Dr. James Pope ran uncontested for their seats in the district. Carrollton administrators plan to use the 21 percent of the E-SPLOST allotted to the district, or up to $20.3 million, for debt payment after issuing $25 million worth of bonds in March to begin construction on a new Carrollton High School.

Superintendent Dr. Kent Edwards said the SPLOST has allowed for a tremendous amount of flexibility on the board’s part.

“In the previous SPLOST, the board showed great foresight because we knew we’d be at this juncture if the population trends continued, where we’d need a new high school,” Edwards said. “The age of the high school has only grown since then, as has our population. So we used the last SPLOST to eliminate all our debt with the hopes of bringing this forward during this SPLOST cycle.”

Edwards said he and the board have promised voters that no portion of SPLOST revenue from this renewal will be earmarked for any other project until the new high school is completed.

Once the high school is done, though, Edwards said the board and school system officials will likely look into renovating Carrollton Junior High School’s gymnasium and possibly “tackling” the 25-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at Carrollton Elementary School.

Voters have approved the past three SPLOST renewals, with this being the fourth renewal of the initial 1997 tax. According to the breakdown of which system will receive what percentage of the revenue, Carroll County Schools will receive 75 percent of the funds, up to $73.8 million. Cowart said the past 18 years of E-SPLOST has created significant improvements to the system’s facilities.

“We’re excited that there was a good turnout and we’re even more excited that we got more than 70 percent of the vote,” said Cowart. “We’ve worked hard to be good stewards of our taxpayer dollars and we hope to continue doing so.”

With the passage of the SPLOST referendum, Carroll County Schools will now be able to fund the completion of phase two in two projects — the North College and Career Academy and Performing Arts Center. Phase one of both those projects is being paid for with funds in the current SPLOST, approved by voters in 2011.

Also listed in the projects list provided by the county schools are new gymnasiums for two schools, multi-purpose additions at two other schools and classroom additions at several of the system’s 24 traditional schools.

Receiving 4 percent of the E-SPLOST revenue, up to $3.9 million will be Bremen City Schools. A portion of the city of Bremen lies within Carroll County, thus making its school system eligible to share in the revenue.

The Carroll County E-SPLOST funds will help Bremen City Schools pay off some outstanding debt incurred in 2011 and 2014.

The current SPLOST won’t expire until December 2017. Cowart said every school in the county system has been affected by the E-SPLOST in its 18-year lifespan.

“We live in a great community where people value education system so much,” said Cowart. “The best way for us to improve the quality of life for everyone in our community is to continue to improve our schools. Having a great education system not only benefits our children, but also the economic health of our area.”

By Donny Karr/Times-Georgian

SPLOST passes overwhelmingly

By: Andrew

Augusta voters swept the city’s seventh sales tax to victory Tuesday with nearly 62 percent of the vote.

The number of yes votes was 9,590, or 61.5 percent, while those opposing the measure cast 6,002, or 38.5 percent.

Turnout was higher than expected, at 17.7 percent for the single-issue election, and Augusta Commission members expressed relief at voter approval for the special purpose local option sales tax, which was defeated last year.

“It was a lot of hard work,” said Com­mis­sioner Sean Frantom, who last week pushed for policy changes increasing transparency and accountability in sales tax spending. The commission approved the changes Tuesday.

“When we put together the package with the needs, the infrastructure, the public safety and not having any (non-government organizations) in, the people put the future of Augusta ahead of their feelings for the commission,” he said.

The $215.5 million sales tax package to be funded over the next six years includes $45.5 million for public safety equipment, vehicles and facilities; $70 million for road and drainage infrastructure; and $28 million for parks and other quality-of-life projects.

Though the tax has passed, the commission’s struggle to regain the public’s trust is not over, Frantom said.

“I’m going to follow the money and make sure of the accountability and the trust grows between the commission and the public,” he said.

A second loss at the polls would have put the city in a tough spot when SPLOST 6 expires in March, and the commission would have “to choose which projects they absolutely want to do and create a revenue stream with which to do it,” said City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson, who gave numerous presentations around
the community before Tuesday’s referendum.

“We’re thankful for the win,” Com­missioner Ben Hasan said. “It was a lot of hard work, but at the end of the day, the community respected the package that was put together.”

Battle lines had been drawn in social media and between two committees formed for and against the tax.

Former mayoral candidate Lori Davis, the treasurer for the anti-SPLOST group One Tax Over the Line, was pleased with the 6,002 “no” votes and called the referendum a victory for transparency.

“This has been a win-win situation for us,” Davis said. “We have basically gotten them on record saying they would be transparent with the SPLOST money, and we’ve got to figure out a way to hold them to it.”

Davis thanked Frantom for his willingness to reach out and said the rest of the commission should take note of it.

Ed Presnell, of the pro-SPLOST committee Secure Augusta’s Future, praised the package as “very well-balanced” in what it held for the city.

“I’m happy for the future of Augusta, and this continuation really makes it a possibility for dreams that we’ve had,” he said.

“It also has brought about a really loud promise of transparency and we’re looking forward to seeing that as well.”

City police and fire associations came out in support of renewing the tax last week for its funding for needed public safety equipment.

“We can’t thank the taxpayers of Augusta enough for supporting us and for that we are grateful,” said Charles Masters, the president of Augusta Professional Firefighters Association. “We look forward to the new changes on the commission as far as accountability and trust with the SPLOST.”

The package lost in 10 of the city’s 71 precincts, including those in Hephzibah and Blythe, which had specific sales tax allocations, three District 2 precincts and four District 6 precincts.

Staff Writer
The Augusta Chronicle