Penny taxes spent by people shopping locally are averaging $500,000 a month in revenue for the Liberty County Board of Education to spend on building projects.
On March 20, Liberty County voters will determine whether the Education Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax will continue to help fund the county’s education system.
The current ESPLOST will expire June 30. If voters approve the measure, the third round would start July 1.
The first ESPLOST generated $22,678,205 and total collections for the current round is estimated at $33 million.
“A couple of months, we took in $700,000 a month,” BOE Finance Director Jason Rogers said.
While the numbers seem high, Rogers said strict controls dictate where the money is spent.
He noted the referendum approved by the voters establishes the parameters for allowable expenditures.
“In the resolution, the board indicates the maximum amount of net proceeds to be raised by the tax, as well as the maximum amount of time that the tax can be collected,” Rogers said.
Tuesday’s proposed resolution calls for the collection of net proceeds to not exceed $58 million and for the ESPLOST cycle to cover a period of five years. The sales tax would automatically expire at the collection of $58 million or at the end of the five-year period -whichever occurs first.
Rogers said sales tax revenue funded the Pre-K center, Liberty County Elementary, Midway Middle School, the transportation complex on Airport Road and other major improvements to other schools. He also noted the cost of ongoing renovations at Bradwell Institute.
“There have been major, major renovations. The HVAC was almost $1.5 million to redo,” he said.
This past year, the board spent a few months defending the cost and size of the new central office building.
“The 63,000 square-foot building would bring together the school system’s 90 employees under one roof,’ Rogers said, “and release several classrooms back to area schools.”
The cost of the new building was a public concern, BOE Chairman Lily H. Baker said. “But I think everyone would admit that we needed a new central office.”
“I want the public to know that we are concerned about taxpayers’ dollars and how we use their dollars. Give this board a chance to show that we are very concerned,” the chairman said.
If the referendum is not approved, the board would face possible funding shortfalls, Baker said.
“A vote of ‘yes’ would bring funding into our school system to help us continue with our building projects and capital layout. What it does is allow everyone in this community to be responsible for the educational system that is so important to all of our citizens,” Baker said. “Especially to property owners. It is important that everyone shares in the responsibility for our schools. I hope the voter turnout will be great for the passing of this because we need it.”
The last part of this three-part series, “What voters think,” will be in an upcoming edition of the Courier.
Early voting started Monday. Voters can cast their early votes from now until Friday. The election is Tuesday, March 20.
Editor’s note: This is the second article in a three-part series on ESPLOST