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Plan offers flexibility with sales tax
Revenue could fund operations
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Forsyth County News
A measure under consideration in the state House could give school systems another way to fund their operations.

As it stands, school districts that have a 1-cent sales tax for education can use the revenue only for capital outlay projects and to pay down general obligation debt the projects incur.

House Bill 1020, combined with House Resolution 1203 could change that. The legislation would allow school systems to also spend the money for maintenance and operations.

“It will give all school systems flexibility,” said Ann Crow, who chairs Forsyth County's school board. “There are some advantages to being able to have other sources of income for education.

“But whether that’s good for Forsyth County, I don’t know.”

The measures have a long way to go. Both the bill and resolution would need to be passed by the House and Senate.

From there, Georgia voters would have to approve the constitutional amendment to allow for the change.

If it passed, individual school systems would then have to include the new wording on future 1-cent sales tax referendums.

Forsyth's most recent sales tax for education, a $265 million plan that voters approved in fall 2006, expires in 2011.

The county's sales tax collections are down from years past, leaving the school board in a position of conservative spending on capital projects.

The state’s budget is also being slashed, resulting in cuts to education funding.

Less state money is why Forsyth Superintendent Buster Evans said he foresees the school system continuing to spend the majority of its sales tax revenue on capital projects.

“We constantly have received cuts from the state, now totaling just in austerity reductions alone over $30 million,” he said. “Being a system that does generate ... a good amount of sales tax revenue, that could be something that could be a tool for us in terms of regenerating or replacing revenue.”

While the local school district would likely hold off, Crow said the measure could aid systems with slower growth.

“I could see where it would benefit a lot of counties and it certainly would be a stream of money for counties that don’t build schools as often as we do,” she said. “But the bottom line is it would give us additional flexibility to consider other options.”

Evans said he supports the measure, even if Forsyth wouldn’t use it right away.

“Whether or not it benefits us individually, I think that it’s a good way to look at a replacement revenue stream,” he said. “I think over the long run, we’ve got to look at how we can become less dependent on ad valorem taxes, even though they’ve been very, very stable over the years.
"It may even present the future opportunity for us to give greater relief in the area of ad valorem taxes on property."

Evans acknowledged that may be difficult to do, but "at some point in the future, that could be a real choice.”