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Posted: December 1, 2012 8:07 p.m.

Explaining the next education SPLOST

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 five-year 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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