Before increasing sales taxes became the popular method to finance improvements, local governments often used bond issues to finance capital items, especially schools and government buildings.
As some may be today, voters got somewhat poll-weary in 1958 as they had to decide several issues.
A biggie on the ballot was a $750,000 bond issue to add two wings and air-condition the Hall County Courthouse. It’s hard to imagine today holding court and doing other business without air-conditioning in the warm months.
While county offices are quite spread out today, in 1958 everything was pretty much in the courthouse, which was built after the 1936 tornado and remains beside the new courthouse on Spring Street and Henry Ward Way today.
There was no separate county schools office. It was in the courthouse with the commission office, judges, a justice of peace, sheriff, registrar, clerk of courts and even the Hall County Library in the basement.
Though the county was much smaller in population, one might wonder how business got done in such a cramped environment.
Also on the Hall County ballot at the time was a separate $500,000 bond issue for what were called “gymnatoriums” for the three recently consolidated high schools, North Hall, East Hall and South Hall. Supporters said accreditation of the schools would be threatened unless they had facilities for physical education and assemblies. It didn’t hurt that the primary need was a place to play basketball.
Critics of the school bonds countered that the county had passed a $975,000 bond issue for schools just five years earlier to build three elementary schools and enlarge others. As for the courthouse expansion, opponents zeroed in on the lack of parking downtown, making it inconvenient for those wanting to pay taxes, buy tags, use the library or other courthouse functions.
Supporters campaigned hard as opposition grew. The Daily Times, as the newspaper was called then, ran what it said were unposed pictures of the crowded conditions. On the day before the election, fourth-grader Carl Rogers, now a state representative, posed in a picture with his family, parents Bill and Gigi Rogers, siblings Johnny, an eighth grader, sixth grader Billy, Georgia and Jean in support of the bond issues.
Some 18,000 voters were registered, according to L.L. Bennett, registrar. No bond issue in Hall had failed since World War II, but those who were for these two weren’t all that confident. An anonymous circular opposing the bonds had been distributed with supposedly false or distorted information the last days before the election.
The school bond issue passed 1,743 to 685. Voters over the years have tended to favor facilities for athletics, not just in Hall, but statewide. Gainesville voters later that year approved a $250,000 bond issue for a Gainesville High School gymnasium 623-80.
The courthouse expansion was another story. With 28 of 29 precincts reporting late on election night, the bond issue led by just a handful of votes. The lone precinct left to report its results was Pea Ridge near the Habersham County line. Though the smallest precinct in Hall County, Pea Ridge rarely phoned in its results to the courthouse in Gainesville until late in the evening or even next morning.
This time, with the courthouse bond issue’s fate in the hands of Pea Ridge, the precinct manager couldn’t be reached. A “search party” led by the sheriff set out for Pea Ridge to find the manager and get voting results.
The poll manager had gone to bed, but the searchers roused his wife, who gave them the results: 8-1 against the bond issue.
When they returned to the courthouse and combined Pea Ridge with the other precincts’ vote totals, the issue came to a 1,719-1,719 tie. There was no recount or revote. Judge G. Fred Kelley ruled a tie vote constituted a defeat of the bond issue, and county commissioners later certified those results.
A few years later, a bond issue to build a library in a separate building also failed with a tie vote, but eventually the library rose from the courthouse basement to its present building on West Academy Street. The courthouse also was eventually expanded, and a brand new one built.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sunday and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.