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Voters extend sales tax for education
Forsyth County Board of Education member Kristin Morrissey, left, and Jayne Iglesias check election returns Tuesday night at Tam's Backstage restaurant in Cumming. Forsyth County voters approved a five-year extension of the 1-cent sales tax for education. - photo by Jennifer Sami

By the numbers

* Yes -- 5,376 votes, or about 80 percent

* No -- 1,339 votes, or about 20 percent

Source: Forsyth County Elections Office

Forsyth County voters overwhelmingly approved an extension of the 1-cent sales tax for education on Tuesday.

The measure passed with 5,376 votes, or about 80 percent, in favor. There were 1,339 votes, or about 20 percent, against the extension.

“We are so thankful to this wonderful and supportive community,” said Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Buster Evans. “These are tough times, and for our community to support education in this way is truly affirming.”

The decision means the current 1-cent tax will be extended on July 1, 2012, for five years, or until tax collections hit a cap of $195 million.

About $141.4 million of the sales tax program will go toward paying off voter-approved bonds from 2005 and '07.

The remaining $53.6 million generated by the tax extension could be used, among other possibilities, to buy land for future schools, improve technology at existing campuses and renovate facilities.

The bond issues were used to fund construction of nine new campuses, including Lambert and West Forsyth high schools, as well as improve, update and expand existing facilities.

The tangible results of the bond money helped sway voters, said Jayne Iglesias, co-chair of Citizens 4 Kids, a group that supported the tax extension.

“It’s money that’s been spent on things that people are using and enjoying,” she said. “It’s not money we might be assigning down the road.”

Less than 7 percent of the county’s registered voters cast a ballot in the election.

While low, the turnout exceeded Forsyth County Election Supervisor Barbara Luth’s estimate of 5 percent.

“It was very, very slow,” she said. “We had three or four people at the polls because we anticipated it being light ... but it was a better turnout than I thought, so that was good.”

Iglesias said the rain may have played a role.

“That will always affect the voter turnout,” she said. “The people that turned out were in support, so we’re OK with that.”

Luth said the issue was likely more popular with voters because it was a continuation of a sales tax already being paid.

“We stayed at 1 percent. We didn’t go higher, we didn’t go down,” she said. “I’ve seen in Gwinnett where they went down a penny and then had to put it back on again.”

If the referendum Tuesday had failed, Forsyth school system officials feared they might have to raise property taxes in order to pay down the bond debts.

It was the third time in the past decade that Forsyth voters had approved an extension of the sales tax for education.

“Most people will vote ‘yes’ for an education SPLOST because it is for the children and because it’s a sales tax," Luth said. "They’d rather have that than have their property taxes raised.”

Evans said he was expecting support to hit about 75 percent, but when it topped 80 percent he was “ecstatic.”

“I would have been totally satisfied with 75 percent,” he said. “When people vote in this way, it tells us that hopefully they’ve gotten the message, and once again we take very seriously that level of trust that they give to us.”

Evans said he is grateful to the county and city of Cumming governments, as well as the local chamber of commerce, for their support of this year's measure,

Their backing, he said, is "demonstrative of what we can do when we all work together for the betterment of this great community.”