The few Liberty County voters who cast ballots Tuesday in a referendum on a sales tax for schools overwhelmingly approved the measure.
The 534 voters who cast ballots (just over 2 percent of the 22,843 registered voters in the county) split 425 yes and 109 no, according to county Election Supervisor Ella Golden. That is an 80 percent approval rating.
The yes vote means that when the current 1 percent Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax expires on May 31, the new one kicks in on June 1. Consumers will not notice any change.
The vote count was delayed Tuesday night past the Courier’s press time. Here is the story that is in Wednesday’s paper:
Classroom size, drop-out rates and the size of the county’s new board of education building may be the most talked about concerns of most citizens, but by 7 p.m. Tuesday only 633 voters had weighed-in on the school’s penny sales tax.
Voters concerned about the one percent Education Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax didn’t break any records for election turnout.
In early voting last week, 65 votes were cast out of 22,843 registered voters. Supervisor of Elections Ella Golden said SPLOST elections average just over 1,000 people.
Although a low turnout was expected, the Liberty County Board of Education is banking on an extension of the current ESPLOST to generate about $58 million to fund the construction of two new schools, renovations of existing facilities and technology.
“If it’s not approved it would put our school system in jeopardy of funding,” BOE Chairman Lily H. Baker said Tuesday afternoon. “Our SPLOST does a lot for our school system in this community.”
State law permits school systems to collect ESPLOST funds in up to five-year increments or until the total amount of revenue projected by the school system is reached, then ESPLOST may be extended through a referendum.
The penny sales tax cannot be used for instructional or other operational costs.
The funds can only be used for capital projects. The first ESPLOST brought in $22,678,205 and total collections for the current round is estimated at $33 million.
Public outcry about out-of-control spending reached its height last year when plans for a new central office were scrutinized.
Being a good steward of taxpayer dollars and involving the community are keys to the community’s perception of the board’s effectiveness, Baker noted.
“We’re not going to satisfy all the people, but give this board, this chairman, and a new superintendent a chance to be more proactive than reactive (in spending),” she said.
Researching options and studying the viability of plans is a part of the process.
“Give us a chance to do studies before we build,” Baker said. “We’ll do our best to keep the public informed and involved in the process.”
While the unofficial election results are unclear, Baker said, “I feel good about it. I believe it will pass.
“I think most of the community is concerned about our young people. I think everyone is concerned about education. We’ve got some things we’re going to do and it’s going to be about the children.
“It’s not going to be about the construction of buildings…it’s going to be about what’s going in inside those four walls of the classroom,” the chairwoman said.