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BOE members argue SPLOST vote
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A discussion of an upcoming education Special Local Option Sales Tax referendum turned contentious between Newton County School Board members at a recent work session.

On the Tuesday night's agenda was a referendum, which will allow Newton County voters to decide on March 19 if they would like to extend the current 1 percent sales tax for education for a five-year period (2015-2019) for the fourth time. 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.

NCSS estimates that an extension of the education SPLOST would raise between $55-57 million over that five-year period, and will also set the maximum SPLOST at $75 million.

"Assuming education SPLOST collections of $55-57 million, Newton County Schools plans to dedicate up to $30 million (or over half) of SPLOST proceeds for property tax relief, this will eliminate our debt service millage during the five-year period," explained Deputy Superintendent of Operations Dennis Carpenter.

"An extension of the education SPLOST will provide significant property tax relief to property owners because the existing bond millage levy will be eliminated during the five-year term of the education SPLOST. Newton County Schools plans to use its remaining education SPLOST proceeds for renovations, improvements, new construction and to equip schools throughout the school system, purchase new school buses and improve system-wide technology."

The recommendation also states that once the board approves the resolution, they will request that Social Circle School Board also consider and adopt the resolution. After their approval, the SPLOST referendum will be called on March 19.

District 2 representative and board chairman Eddie Johnson, along with District 4 representative Almond Turner both appeared eager to approve the referendum that night, even though it was not set to be voted on per the approved agenda. While it is not a common occurrence to call a vote for an agenda item in a work session that is not previously scheduled to be voted on, it has happened before, and can be done if the BOE decides to vote on a specific agenda item. Johnson said he would like to allow more time for the word to be gotten out to the public, and would like to call the matter to a vote then. Turner also seemed keen to go ahead and vote on the matter Tuesday, not to wait until Nov. 27, when the board was originally scheduled to vote.

Although Johnson and Turner were prepared to vote in favor of it, District 3 representative Shakila Henderson-Baker said she had not read the referendum completely and needed more time. District 1 representative Jeffrey Meadors agreed. In spite of that, a motion was made and approved by Johnson, Turner and District 5 representative Abigail Morgan Coggin, with Henderson-Baker and Meadors opposed.

Before they could move on however, Meaders asked to go back to the issue, saying "...With two of us telling you we need more time to go through it and process it, which is what the agenda says we would do, you have chosen to go ahead and make a motion and have it approved?"

Johnson corrected him, saying the motion was made but approved by three members of the board. Morgan Coggin also spoke up, saying she was unclear as to what they had been voting for and wished to retract her vote in favor from earlier in the evening. When Meadors continued to question Johnson, Johnson replied "Mr. Meadors excuse me... I think you're out of order."

"I'm not out of order," Meadors fumed. "I have every right to ask for a summery... and I got it. It's not out of order at all, it's a discussion."

Although the meeting continued, at the end Henderson-Baker said she had a point of parliamentary inquiry about the agenda item. She questioned if the board had to go by the agenda they already voted on and therefore, choosing to vote on the SPLOST referendum was not something they could do. Morgan Coggin added that she would like to amend her vote because she didn't want to vote until the whole board was unified on the issue.

As Meadors began trying as Henderson-Baker was trying to, Johnson attempted to interrupt him, causing Meadors to speak even louder for a moment before ending with "finished."

Superintendent Gary Mathews offered some suggestions in the matter, chiefly that the board should make sure they were unified in an issue such as this.

"It's clear to me this is probably not the way to begin a SPLOST election," he said, adding that he hoped the board would chose to not vote, and wait until the Nov. 27 meeting as originally planned.

Turner agreed and withdrew his motion for approval, which originally failed since Henderson-Baker and Meadors were unsure about voting for something they had originally opposed. After further clarification, Johnson said he was prepared to go forward with it because he would not make yet another motion on the issue. However Turner did, and it passed, with all board members in favor of waiting, sans Johnson, who was opposed.

The board is scheduled to vote on the SPLOST referendum on Nov. 27.