Early voting is underway for a new ESPLOST in Wilkinson County. The sales tax would allow the Board of Education to spend $7.5 million over five years. Angela Robinson teaches in the county and says this money is very needed.
“They need to see it hear it,” says Robinson.
At Wilkinson Primary Elementary School, Robinson says learning is clicking for kids more than ever all because of changes that came from ESPLOST.
“So many kids have improved because we do a lot of our testing on computers a lot of our writing on computers,” says Robinson.
Walking through the halls of the school you will find several computer labs. Behind the doors of classrooms, you will see students with tablets, but that has not always been the case.
“We only had a computer for teachers,” says Robinson. She says the old Wilkinson Primary Elementary School did not have the wiring to support modern technology. That changed when they built the new elementary school.
Now Superintendent, Aaron Geter, says they need a new ESPLOST to help pay off the debt from the new school.
“We pay $1.2 to $1.3 million a year into a fund to pay back the $16.5 million we borrowed from the federal government,” says Geter.
Geter says he is asking people to vote yes on the new ESPLOST that would raise up to $7.5 million from sales tax over five years to help pay off the school and other projects, like larger buses.
“We had to consolidate some routes so we were very proud to purchase these buses to help make sure our kids get home safely,” says Geter.
Robinson says this sales tax is not only bringing physical changes to the school system, but she says it is also changing students outlooks.
“I feel like kids and teachers and the whole community are proud of the school,” says Robinson.
Superintendent Geter says the final day to vote on the ESPLOST is Tuesday, March 21st. If it does not go pass, Geter says they would have to increase people's property taxes. He says the increase would be at least 3 mills.
Below is a list of FAQ from Geter:
1. What is an EDUCATION SPLOST (E-SPLOST)?
An Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (E-SPLOST) allows local school districts the option to ask voters for the ability to levy and collect a one percent sales tax to help fund school improvements. It can be used to pay for capital projects or to retire debt, but cannot be used to pay operating expenses, such as salaries. E-SPLOSTs are enacted by referendum.
2. When is the E-SPLOST vote?
Tuesday, March 21, 2017. The polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. There will be an early voting period from February 27 – March 17, 2017 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
3. Would the proposed E-SPLOST be a sales tax increase?
No! If approved, the sales tax for education would remain at its current level.
4. Why do we need to extend or renew our current E-SPLOST?
The E-SPLOST is used to pay off the bond indebtedness of our New Primary-Elementary School. Any excess E-SPLOST funds are used to purchase buses, textbooks, technology, renovations of facilities, safety and security.
5. Why an E-SPLOST?
The education SPLOST is not a property tax. It provides a method of funding the cost of educational improvements and retire bond debt that everyone, not just property owners, contributes to. Additionally, the sales tax is paid by everyone who shops or stays in Wilkinson County including our numerous visitors.
6. What would the school system do with the money raised from the E-SPLOST extension or renewal?
The most important purpose of the E-SPLOST is to pay off the bond indebtedness of the New Primary-Elementary School as to offset cost of buses, textbooks, technology, renovations of facilities, safety and security.
7. How much money would be raised and how long would this sales tax be in place?
The E-SPLOST extension is for a $7.5 million limit or 5 years, whichever comes first.
8. Why isn’t the money being used for teacher salaries and curriculum development?
State laws prohibit using E-SPLOST proceeds for salaries or instructional materials. However, passing this sales tax vote will free up funds for the School Board to meet its required financial obligations without having to rely on even more ad valorem taxes.
9. Has the current E-SPLOST been a success?
Yes! The Board of Education has been able to receive revenue from the present E-SPLOST to fund the New Primary-Elementary School. E-SPLOST funds have also been used to purchase school buses, textbooks, renovations, security cameras, and technology.
10. Why should people who do not have children in school support the E-SPLOST Extension or renewal?
The E-SPLOST extension keeps ad valorem taxes stable. Additionally, the children are not the only ones who benefit from good schools. The social and economic strength of a community are greatly influenced by the school system. Good schools mean well-prepared citizens, a strong labor market, and an inviting atmosphere for living and working. One of the key questions asked by industrial/commercial or residential prospects looking to move into a community is, “What is the quality of the schools?”
11. Why have a special election March 21, 2017 rather than waiting to vote on the ESPLOST during the next general election?
The present E-SPLOST ends March 31, 2018. The Board did not want the sales tax collections to end and not be able to collect sales again until after a general election. This would mean a loss of thousands of dollars for Wilkinson County Schools. Also, approval of an extension or renewal to our current E-SPLOST is a critical local issue. There has never been a more important vote for education in Wilkinson County. Thus, the Board chose to have a stand-alone election so that voters would be better informed and not be confused by other issues on the ballot in the general election.
12. Is the school system eligible for any state funds for facilities?
YES!! The Wilkinson County School District is eligible to receive capital outlay funding for our school district in the future to build a New Middle-High School.
13. Will the school system need to continue to extend or renew the E-SPLOST in future years?
YES. Because the school system has issued bonds for more than five years, extension or renewal of the E-SPLOST will be necessary to retire the bonds on the New Primary-Elementary School in 2026. This is a common practice used in smaller school systems to accomplish major projects.
14. What would happen if the E-SPLOST did not pass?
Without the extension or renewal of the current E-SPLOST, the Board would have to significantly raise property taxes. It would be almost impossible to build the needed new facilities and improve present facilities. Also, it would be very difficult to purchase needed buses, technology, and renovate current buildings when needed.
Mary Grace Shaw, 13WMAZ