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County schools see fewer SPLOST dollars

Reduced monthly check could reflect economy

POSTED: April 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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A much lower-than-projected monthly revenue check has Hall County school officials concerned that a weakening economy might be taking a toll on its vaunted 1-cent sales tax program.

The system netted $1.5 million in March, down from $2 million in February and the budgeted $1.8 million. Checks have hovered in the $1.8 million to $2 million range for the past year or so.

"We’re hoping that it was some sort of mistake at the state level and that it will be adjusted next month," said Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools. "But we’re proceeding very cautiously."

The worry is that the low amount is part of a trend in the nation’s move toward a recession.

"I don’t think there’s any doubt that when you look around at what people have to spend and with $4-per-gallon gas that the economy certainly has slowed," Schofield said. "What we have saving us in Hall is that we still have a considerable amount of growth and new retail coming in."

The district has "to get even more (fiscally) conservative ,and we really need to be careful about prioritizing our needs and moving cautiously in terms of large expenditures," he added.

School systems statewide have been using voter-approved 1-cent sales tax programs since their inception in 1997 to fund construction and renovation projects.

Sales-tax programs have been especially beneficial in fast-growing districts such as Gainesville and Hall County, which otherwise would have relied on property taxes and bond referendums for the projects.

Customers at Hall County businesses pay 7 cents on the dollar for items they buy, with 4 cents going toward state taxes, 1 cent for school systems inside the county, 1 cent for Hall County government and municipalities, and a 1-cent "special purpose tax" for the county’s new detention center.

The Buford school system draws a flat $50,000 per month as its share, with Gainesville and Hall County school systems basing their amounts on full-time student enrollment numbers.

Also, each month’s check is based on retail sales for two months earlier, so March’s check would reflect sales in January, Schofield said.

The Gainesville school system’s March sales-tax haul was $330,601, a drop from $434,382 in February, said Janet Allison, the district’s finance chief.

"Gainesville is very concerned with the economy impacting (the sales-tax program)," said Superintendent Steven Ballowe. "Thank goodness we have a single major project (the new Gainesville Middle School) and were able to realize great savings with our initial (construction) bids."

The previous revenue low for the Hall County system was in December 2006, when the district received $1.4 million.

That amount, however, followed an unusually high $2.5 million check in November 2006, leaving school officials to ponder what happened.

"That wasn’t a Hall County phenomenon — that was across the state — and we’ve never gotten an answer that made sense to us," Schofield said.



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