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Voters OK education SPLOST for five more years

POSTED: March 15, 2011 9:37 p.m.

Hall County voters responded with a resounding “yes” to continue the 1-cent sales tax for education during Tuesday’s special election.

With 100 percent of the ballots in, the yes votes were 67 percent (4,478 votes) of the total, while, no votes were 33 percent (2,276 votes). Turnout was 8.3 percent.

“We’re thrilled and grateful to the voters, the Citizens for a Better Education and the large group of people who helped us,” Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. “This will give us a boost for financial recovery and a new level of financial health.”

Tuesday’s vote approves a possible $130 million in school improvements over the next five years.

Supporters of the special purpose local option sales tax said the funds are needed for critical renovations to Gainesville and Hall County schools, many of which are between 40 and 65 years old.

Gainesville will use funding to raze and rebuild the deteriorating Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, originally built in 1937. Safety inspectors recommended students only be housed in the facility for two more years before either the needs are addressed or the building is condemned.

Another $5.1 million would go toward bond debt, $3 million for renovations and $300,000 for school buses and/or textbooks.

Dyer said construction for the new Fair Street school will begin this September.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield gave his thanks to the electorate Tuesday evening.

“We will do all that is within our ability to utilize these funds wisely for the benefit of our community’s boys and girls,” Schofield said.

Hall County plans to spend $50 million on renovations; $20 million, classroom additions; $15 million, technology; and $3 million, school buses and library books.

Both systems plan to use SPLOST proceeds to retire old bond debt.

Members of the sales tax campaign, Citizens for a Better Education, intensified their efforts over the last two months.

“We did it the best way we could and we hit it hard,” said Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

She added she anxiously watched the results online.

“I felt pretty good about the vote, but you can never tell,” she said. “I think it says something about the community that will support the public schools. It’s important for a community to be aggressive and show we care about our schools and our children.”

Tuesday’s turnout numbers were the lowest in Hall County’s four SPLOST referendums.

About 12 percent of residents hit the polls for the first SPLOST election in 1997, and it was 10 percent in 2001. The third SPLOST vote was held during a primary, which generally boosts voter attendance, and brought 26 percent turnout.

Charlotte Sosebee, interim director of elections and voter registration, said turnouts for special elections are typically low.

“The one disappointment is the low turnout, but the percentage of the win is really good,” Dunlap said.

The current sales tax is set to expire in 2012, and Hall County and Gainesville will divide the funds according to student numbers. Part of Buford is in Hall County and the school system negotiated a flat amount of $3.8 million.

Officials said funds from earlier SPLOSTs were used to construct new schools after explosive growth in the 1990s.

Now that enrollment has slowed in recent years, school officials say they can focus on the district’s current facilities.

“Students are working hard academically and we need to be responsible and get all the schools fixed to code,” Dyer said. “This is our chance to do it.”

SPLOST IV collections will begin Sept. 30, 2012, when the current SPLOST ends.



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