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Chamber backs sales tax
Vote set for March 15
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Forsyth County News

 

The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce on Friday announced its support for the continuation of the local 1-cent sales tax for education.

If approved by voters on March 15, the fourth round of the tax would begin July 1, 2012, and last five years, or until tax collections hit $195 million.

About $141.4 million of funds generated by the tax, if approved, would go toward paying off voter-approved bonds from 2005 and 2007.

Those bonds were used to build nine schools and improve and expand facilities.

The remaining $53.6 million of the projected sales tax revenue could be used to buy land for future schools, improve technology at existing campuses and renovate facilities.

President James McCoy said there were several reasons he and other chamber leaders decided to approve a resolution supporting the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST.

"Probably most important is the fact that previous SPLOSTs were used to build new schools, and those schools have now been built on time and under budget," McCoy said.

He added that the chamber has also come out in support of previous SPLOST and bond votes.

School leaders have said if the March measure fails, the only other way to pay back the bond debt would be to raise property taxes.

"We believe sales tax is the most fair way to pay off this debt, rather than raising the millage rate 3 or 4 mills," McCoy said.

Jayne Iglesias is the south Forsyth chairwoman of the SPLOST for Schools committee, a parent and community organization campaigning in favor of the measure.

She said committee members were "extremely grateful" to the chamber for its support.

"They've done so much for us," Iglesias said. "They realize that if this is not passed, it'll really affect property values because [the school system] will have to raise property taxes."

The current sales tax expires June 30, 2012. It was expected to generate about $207 million to retire bond debts. However, with the economic downturn, actual collections likely will total less than $150 million.

If next month's measure fails, the school system would have to wait until mid-March 2012 before it could be placed on the ballot again.

Iglesias hopes that won't happen.

"It's so important to keep our low taxes and great schools, because that's what keeps people coming here," she said.

The school system held two informational meetings about the tax vote earlier this month. No one from the general public attended either session.

Iglesias hopes the chamber's involvement will spark more interest.

"Hopefully, they'll encourage business people to get out and vote and generate some buzz for us," she said. "It's a special election, so it's pretty quiet right now."

McCoy said the chamber does plan to "communicate to its members and the community the importance of the vote."

"We especially want to engage our business people," he said.

The early voting period for the March 15 referendum is under way.