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Tax talks fail to draw
BOE hopes turnout better on March 15
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Forsyth County News

 

The lights were on Monday night, but everyone was home instead of at school learning about the future of education funding.

No residents attended either of the informational meetings the Forsyth County school system held on the proposed extension of the 1-cent sales tax for education. The vote is set for March 15.

“On a rainy, cold night, it’s hard to get people out to learn,” said Forsyth County School Board Chairman Tom Cleveland, who led the session at South Forsyth High School.

A second session was held simultaneously at North Forsyth Middle School.

Despite the turnout, or lack thereof, Cleveland said he and other board members are available to answer questions about the proposed extension of the tax, known as a special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST.

All the information, he noted, can also be found on the system’s Web site.

“I find that a lot of people go online these days,” he said. “I’m going to try to get that word out to everybody so everybody can make an informed decision.”

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

About $141.4 million of that money would go toward paying off voter-approved bonds from 2005 and 2007, which were used to build nine schools and improve and expand facilities.

The remaining $53.6 million could be used, among other purposes, to buy land for future schools, improve technology at existing campuses and renovate facilities.

The current sales tax, which expires on June 30, 2012, was expected to raise about $207 million to retire the system's bond debts. With the economic downturn, however, actual collections likely will total less than $150 million.

Voters must be registered by Feb. 14 to take part in next month's referendum. Feb. 14 also marks the first day of the early voting period.

If the measure fails, the school system would have to wait a year, or until mid-March 2012, before it could be placed on a ballot again.

Cleveland noted the only other way to pay down the 2005 and 2007 bond debts would be to raise property taxes.

The informational meetings may not be indicative of support in the March election, he said. While turnout likely won't be as high as for a presidential election, it may not be as low as some recent runoffs.

If past school tax referendums are any indication, those who vote typically support it.

In the 2006 vote on the tax, nearly 28,700 were in favor, with about 10,500 opposed. The 2001 referendum passed 5,100 to 1,900.

The information meetings from Monday were one step of many to inform the public about the measure.

While board members can’t tell voters how to vote, they can provide factual information and highlight the successes of the previous three sales taxes for education.

During the meeting Monday at South, board member Kristin Morrissey said it is "key to reiterate that if this SPLOST passes, it’s really nothing new to the taxpayers.”

“It’s a continuation of what we’re already paying,” she said. “And we’ve shown with past SPLOSTs that we’ve done what we said we were going to do.”