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Future of SPLOST up to the voters
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During the past few weeks, signs saying "vote yes twice" have sprung up in yards and windows all over the county.

Tuesday registered voters of Newton County will have the chance to vote on the continuation of the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax as well as the issuance of general obligation bonds.

The ballot asks voters to approve the extension of the penny sales tax until 2014 and the one mil debt service on the issuance of general obligation bonds until 2025.

"I believe one reason the public has been so receptive, is the fact that the structure of the SPLOST and general obligation bonds, if approved, will not cause an increase in taxes," said Deborah Robertson, Newton County School System associate superintendent for business and administration.

 Robertson explained the revenue from the sales tax primarily would fund the construction of three new elementary school, a new middle school, classroom additions to Alcovy High School, improvements to Newton High and Sharp Stadium, updated technology and the purchase of buses and would decrease debt from previous general obligation bonds.

GO bond revenues would be used to construct a new high school and construct a band/ROTC addition at Eastside High.

The estimated cost of these projects sits at $169.5 million, with $53 million coming from the state and the other two thirds coming from local sources.

Administrators of the Newton County School System as well as members of Newton Citizens for Excellent Schools have hosted numerous informational meetings for various businesses and civic organizations in the county about the intention of the referendum.

NCES Co-chair Timothy K. Adams agreed with Robertson that his constituents have agreed to vote yes twice based on the ballot items not increasing taxes.

"All I have talked to really feel good about it," Adams said. "Everybody I've talked with says they're going to vote yes twice."

Adams said he has made presentations about the necessity of the two items in several schools as well as spoken with members of his church and of the Community Band he directs.

"I also talk with any citizen I meet - young or old - and tell them to go to the polls on Sept. 18 because it's a good cause.

Loucy Hay, chairwoman of NCES's Get Out and Vote committee, also has met positive feedback from parents about the referendum.

"People have been so receptive to putting signs in their yards or making phone calls or writing letters," Hay said.

Coordinating volunteers from each of the county's 20 schools has kept Hay busy over the past few weeks, but she said she feels like all the hard work will pay off when the referendum passes.

Hay makes sure the message she delivers to her constituents is simple and brief - she said if residents are concerned about the community and its schools, they should voice their opinions through the ballot.

"I tell them just to go vote - that is the most important thing - and vote yes twice," Hay said.

She said she and her volunteers have given out approximately 600 yard signs and several thousand informational brochures.

Adams explained the amount of trailers the county uses for instructional space is the largest indicator of how much the system needs new schools.

Robertson reported the district currently uses 154 trailers as classrooms.

"Without the passage of these referenda, our schools would become even more overcrowded and additional trailers would need to be purchased," Robertson said.

She mentioned since many of the district's elementary schools have no more space to place trailers on their lots, those schools would be forced to have double sessions if no new schools were built to thin out their enrollment.

Robertson also explained if both items do not pass the board would have to decide whether to continue the lottery pre-k program.

School systems in Georgia are not required to provide pre-K programs. The elimination of the two pre-K classrooms in each of the county's elementary schools would free up 24 classrooms for other grades.

"Further, the only other means of securing local funding required to construct new schools is what is called 'pay as you go,'" Robertson said. "This means that they school board would be forced to consider raising the maintenance and operations millage rate to 20 mills - our current rate is 18.21.

"It would also take a lot longer to generate the funds needed to construct even one new school and would be many years before enough funds were generated for other school construction."

She also supplied statistics about the county's rapid growth since the year 2000.

• Newton County was the fourth fastest growing county in Georgia and the 11th fastest growing county in the United States from 2000 to 2006.

• The county has the second fastest growing school system in the state.

• Student enrollment has increased by more than 1,000 students a year for the past five years.

• Approximately 19,200 students attend Newton County Schools. System administrators estimated 25,000 will be enrolled by 2013.

Adams taught in the county for 36 years and has watched student enrollment explode. Hay has a kindergartener and fourth grader at Palmer-Stone Elementary and has sent her children to school in trailer classrooms.

"We have to have this for the county," Hay said. "We have to have this to improve the facilities our children are in right now and for the families flooding into the county.

"This has to pass because we have to have a place to put our children."

Voters can vote before Tuesday by participating in early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the old Cousins Middle School on Geiger Street as long as they bring picture identification.