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SPLOST headed for approval in early returns

SPLOST IV funds would help local school systems

POSTED: March 15, 2011 8:22 p.m.

Poll volunteers Lisa Coleman, left, and Victoria Thomas carry voting equipment to be loaded for a poll location Monday morning at the Hall County Elections office. Poll managers kept busy setting up for today's election.

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This story will be updated as soon as ballots are counted.

Hall County voters went to the polls today to offer a “yes” or “no” on renewing a 1-cent sales tax for school improvements.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. In very early returns, voters were narrowly approving the SPLOST. Although Hall County's official website incorrectly says 100 percent of the vote has been counted, officials are still counting ballots.

“I think we’ve done a good job of educating the public about the options before them,” Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said, adding he hopes residents will vote whether it’s for or against.

Schofield said the current special purpose local option sales tax for education is set to expire in 2012. The new SPLOST is expected to generate $130 million over five years and fund projects for Gainesville, Hall County and Buford schools.

Renovations will take the top priority in both Gainesville and Hall County. Several facilities in each system are between 40 and 65 years old.

Gainesville officials said one project will be construction of a new Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School. The building was built in 1937, and safety inspectors have found major structural concerns.

The district also plans to renovate several schools, with a focus on electrical, plumbing and roofing work.

Hall County officials said about $50 million worth of renovations will be made to schools across the district. Part of the money will also be directed to replacing and adding technology.

Both districts also are reaching the end of their payments for general obligation bond debt.

About $9.7 million will go to debt payment in Hall County for the creation of West Hall Middle and West Hall High schools in the 1980s. Since the first SPLOST in 1997, the district has been able to pay for new schools with cash, Schofield said.

Gainesville will use $5.1 million for debt that funded land purchased for Gainesville Middle School.

The money collected from the tax will be shared among the school systems based on enrollment numbers. Part of Buford is in Hall County and the school system negotiated a possible share of $3.8 million.

Schofield added this year’s election is the earliest a SPLOST vote has been held. The prime reason for holding a special election now, rather than during a primary election this November, was for financial planning.

“Gainesville has a dire need with Fair Street so we agreed on an earlier date,” Schofield said.

The education SPLOST is separate from the 1-cent tax controlled by Hall County commissioners and used to cover projects such as roads, libraries and parks.

If passed, it will be the fourth time voters have approved a sales tax for education.


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