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Gainesville leads in support of SPLOST
Banks, Forsyth, Jackson counties also renewed tax
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Hall County's penny sales tax for education, approved Tuesday, got broad support across Hall County but especially big support in Gainesville.

Results showed Gainesville residents approved the tax by more than 70 percent in all four precincts.

With 111 voters, Precinct II in south Gainesville approved the special purpose local option sales tax by 95 percent.

About 67 percent of voters countywide said "yes" to the renewal.

Campaign supporters said the numbers weren't too surprising.

"When we looked at past referendums, that's what we saw," said Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. Dunlap was an organizer for Citizens for a Better Education, an organization whose advertisements pushed passage of the tax.

"The media also hits more in the city of Gainesville with the newspaper and radio station," she said.

North Hall precincts also generally had a higher turnout in the special election and most voted in favor. The SPLOST failed to garner enough votes in just two precincts, Lula and Wilson I. Voters in Lula defeated the SPLOST by 55 percent and voters in Wilson I, north of Oakwood, defeated it by just over 50 percent. The overall turnout Tuesday was a modest 8.3 percent, the lowest in Hall County's four education SPLOST referendums.

Douglas Young, a political science professor at Gainesville State College, said the low turnout could have contributed to the SPLOST's success.

"Last November, votes were more conservative and voters were in a ‘let's cut spending' kind of mood," he said. "It could have been that supporters deliberately wanted it this time of year, when they don't have many people voting. The highest turnouts are mostly during general elections."

Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said March was an especially early date to set the vote, but the system worked with Gainesville City Schools for the early date so Gainesville could secure matching funds for construction in July.

Young said voters typically support education SPLOSTs for several reasons.

"Most people want to help public schools. So there's a general sense that by voting for increased funding for public schools, that's automatically going to help them," he said. "In Gainesville, we're used to paying for SPLOST since 1997, so it's also a continuation of the status quo."

Counties across the region also saw significant support for a sales tax renewal for education Tuesday, including Banks with 75 percent, Forsyth with 80 percent and Jackson with 70 percent.

Of Georgia's 180 school systems, currently 174 have the penny tax for education in place.

SPLOSTs are popular in general but have not always been renewed. For example in Greene County in eastern Georgia, voters passed the tax in 2006, with 1,853 in favor and 886 opposed. But in 2010, it was narrowly defeated.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the campaign did a good job of connecting with civic groups and agencies in Gainesville to spread the message.

The district also communicated the needs of their school facilities, she said.

Officials said several buildings in Gainesville and Hall County are deteriorating as they reach 40 to 65 years of age.

Throughout the campaign, Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School emerged as a major priority for Gainesville.

The school was built in 1937, and safety inspectors advised students only be housed in the building for two more years before the needs are addressed. The problems include a sinking subfloor, outdated heating and air conditioning units, and a leaky roof.

"It appears voters had a common understanding of the needs of the schools," Dyer said.

She added that money from earlier SPLOSTs was directed to the construction of new schools and managing growth.

"We are excited about the possibility that for the first time since growth was overwhelming us in the 1990s, we have a chance to catch up and address issues we know we needed to do but there was no funding to deal with."