EARLY VOTING UNDERWAY FOR ESPLOST REFEREndum
By Matt Sharpe
A decision will be made by voters on Tuesday, March 17, as the ESPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) Referendum will be on the ballot in Upson County. Voters are being asked to vote a tax upon themselves in order to hold down the millage rate for property owners. The logic behind the vote is that the sales tax is paid for by everyone and not just property owners.
The ESPLOST is a one penny tax that is dedicated for use by school systems to help fund public education. The tax can be used to pay for school construction, equipment, and to retire school debt. It can’t be used to pay operating expenses, such as salaries and utilities.
The ESPLOT coming up on the ballot is the fourth education referendum. The ESPLOST is projected to bring in approximately $15 million over the duration of five years. Upson County voters approved the referendum in 2002 (three-year SPLOST), 2006, and 2009. Since 2002, the school system has been collecting one penny for every dollar spent in Upson County. If approved by voters, the existing sales tax in Upson would not change.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mike Gatlin spoke about the upcoming referendum to those in attendance for the Chamber of Commerce Sun’s Up Breakfast last week at the Upson-Lee Fine Arts Center, a center that was paid for by SPLOST funds.
“What makes SPLOST a good tax is it is a fair tax,” said Gatlin. “Everybody that comes through Upson County, and shops in Upson County, helps pay for these projects for the school.”
He stated that the main purpose of extending the current ESPLOST is to continue to improve facilities and purchase equipment, as well as upgrade technology resources for our students. If the items are not paid for with sales tax, then property taxes may need to be increased.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of daily maintenance and operation projects that we were able to accomplish with SPLOST dollars,” he said.
A list of popular question with that have been asked about the EPSLOST was provided with responses. Gatling went over the questions with the audience. In reference to the question “many of the items paid for previous ESPLOST pennies seem to be routine maintenance such as projects such as paving, roofing, painting, etc. Why is the school system not paying for these items out of the general operating budget?”
Gatlin stated that ESPLOST allows school systems to shift many capital expenditures out of the general operating budget. The budget is supported by state revenues, local property taxes, and the ESPLOST.
What would happen if the ESPOST fails is a popular question with the referendum. Gatlin stated that without the extension of the ESPOST property taxes may have to be increased. He added that other facility or equipment improvements will not be accomplished, and this will result in lost opportunities for Upson County students.
In reference to lottery funds, the school system does not receive funding for K-12 educational purposes from the Georgia Lottery. Lottery proceeds only partially fund the state Pre-K program and the Hope Scholarship. By law, school systems cannot use lottery funds for school renovation and construction projects.
Gatlin added that the school systems funds come from three sources: federal, local and state. Just a very little bit of that comes from federal programs. State and local are split almost equally. The local portion comes from property taxes and ESPLOST. Currently the school systems millage rate is 15.38. One mill brings in about $580,000. There are only two counties out of 159 in the state that do not have an ESPLOST.
Money they get from the state is still based on a system that was implemented 30 years ago according to Gatlin. He referenced two items in particular where there is a big shortfall of funds that are provided: textbooks and school buses. With textbooks, the school gets $35-$40 from the state and the book costs the school $150. With school buses the school gets $85,000 for school buses. The school buys 2-3 buses per year at $95,000 for each bus.
“SPLOST used to be almost a luxury and now it’s become a necessity because of state cuts,” he said.
Projects and items that are being looked at with the funds that would be brought in with the ESPLOST include the following: Textbooks -$950,000; Student Furniture- $300,00; Technology and Communications Equipment- $3,750,000; Security and Safety- $1,250,000; Buses and Maintenance Vehicles-$650,000; Schoolwide HVAC- $1,000,000; Facility/Grounds Maintenance/Kitchen Equipment- $400,000; Painting and Flooring- $1,200,000; Athletic/Fine Arts/P.E. Improvements- $900,000; Paving- $950,000; Playground Updates- $150,000; and Building Upgrades- $3,500,000.
“Without having this extra SPLOST money, I don’t know how we would operate. We have done so many things to try to reduce costs in the school, we’ve furloughed teachers. This year will be the first year in five years that we have not furloughed teachers. We have cut over 116 employees since 2008 and we continue to do what we can to save money, but we can only do so much. It’s a very difficult process without SPLOST. Without SPLOST I don’t see how we can balance our budget or come close to balancing our budget. We still operate on a deficit budget, even with the money we get from SPLOST.”
“We only have two options…we can either raise the millage rate to raise money or we can continue to vote in the SPLOST,” said Gatlin.
Early voting is underway at the Registrar’s Office for the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST). Early voting began Feb. 23 and will continue through Friday, March 13. Voting can be done Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 each day. There will not be a Saturday voting day. The Registrar’s Office is located in the old Drake building located at the Government Complex. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17 for the vote on the referndum. All precincts will be open that day.
Dr. Rex King Delivers Opening
On Monday Feb. 2 a search warrant was executed by the narcotics task force which includes Thomaston Police Department, Upson County Sheriff's office, Taylor County Sheriff’s office and Meriwether county sheriff’s office, for the property of 109 Herbert Street. During the search Agent recovered Marijuana while on the property and Justin Moss, of Thomaston was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
Pictured (L-R): Wendale Clark, Erma Rogers, Debra Whitehead, Kevin Hilton, Bob Page (of the Marine Corps League Detachment in Griffin), Bruce Bagwell, Cathy Jordan, Sandy Burkett, Carla McClellan.
Pictured from left are employees with the Upson County TenCate plant, Dusty Fordham Event Organizer, King Kracker with Chills Bar and Grill (R) accepting a plaque of appreciation from Raak Patel with the Marine Corp Toys for Tots Program.