More than a year remains on the current 1-cent sales tax for schools, but the Forsyth County Board of Education has begun preparations for 2012.
The school board on Thursday discussed a possible ballot referendum for a fourth special purpose local option sales tax, commonly known as SPLOST.
The five-year tax would begin on July 1, 2012, with a cap of $195 million. The board could bring it before voters as early as March.
“What we were expecting with SPLOST III was to have enough money to make the bond payments and toward the end of it, have some money left over to do other projects,” said Dan Jones, system finance director.
“We don’t [even] have enough money coming in to make all the bond payments.”
The current sales tax could have generated as much as $265 million to pay off the system’s bond debts, though Jones’ conservative estimates from 2006 were that it would yield about $207 million.
Citing the slow economy, he said the reality will be more like $145 million to $150 million by the time the tax expires on June 30, 2012.
During Thursday’s work session, Jones presented the school board with his estimates for what the SPLOST IV could yield.
"Every time you do a SPLOST election, you have to put a cap ... and you always put that high, because you want this to run the full five years,” Jones explained.
The balance, he said, is to not set the cap low enough that the money is collected before the allotted time.
"The thing we need to think about is what’s the maximum amount you want to put on the ballot you feel comfortable with, that doesn’t scare the public away," he said.
The public has been overwhelmingly supportive of past votes on a 1-cent sales tax for education.
In the 2006 vote for SPLOST III, nearly 28,700 supported the tax, with about 10,500 opposed. The 2001 vote on SPLOST II passed 5,100 to 1,900.
If approved by voters in March, SPLOST IV funds would go toward paying off voter-approved bonds from 2005 and 2007.
“If we don’t pass it, we still owe the bonds," Jones said. "So we’ll have to go to the millage rate and raise it.”
Board member Mike Dudgeon said supporters of the FairTax concept likely would be supportive of the extension since “this is a choice between sales tax and millage rate.”
If the board needs to raise the millage rate, only property owners would bear the brunt of the cost. The sales tax also distributes the burden to renters, tourists and visitors.
While the system could have postponed the SPLOST IV vote to November 2011, Jones said it “decided that it would be best to place it on the March ballot so the decision is made by voters prior to adoption of the new operation budget in June.”