On Tuesday, Columbia County voters will go to the polls to decide if Columbia County schools should continue a 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) when the current SPLOST expires in 2007.
The continuation of the 1-cent sales tax is needed to construct six new schools, renovate existing schools, purchase new computers and technology, buy new school buses, secure land for future schools and retire former debt.
New and renovated schools are needed for the 2,500 additional students that will enter our school system in the next five years. School officials have done a great job of managing growth in the past, and should be given the financial resources to manage growth in the future.
Despite growing pains, Columbia County Schools continue to receive high marks for excellence. Columbia County has the reputation of being one of the top school systems in Georgia and the Southeast.
At the February meeting of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Chamber board voted unanimously to endorse the 1-cent school SPLOST. For the Chamber, the SPLOST vote is simple: It's an investment in our children's education and in our community.
Columbia County voters first passed the 1-cent school SPLOST in 1997, and then again in 2002. The Tuesday vote is to extend the current SPLOST for five more years. It is easy to understand why most voters support the SPLOST. Why? Because SPLOST:
Can only be used for capital improvement projects and debt reduction;
Requires projects to be listed on a resolution approved by the School Board;
Requires officials to be accountable and show how revenues were spent;
Provides a sunset provision (five years) and requires a new referendum if extended;
Continues the current 1-cent tax that is already in place (not an additional tax);
Eliminates the school bond millage portion of our property tax bill and decreases our overall property taxes;
Is seen as a "fairer" tax, for everyone who does business in the county instead of just property owners; and,
Allows officials to better plan and issue bonds to begin construction to meet future needs.
The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce supports the continuation of a 1-cent school SPLOST because it is good for our children, our community and our economy.
Ask anyone on the street why Columbia County has experienced unparalleled growth and the answer you usually get is: "Good schools." Of course, other factors contribute to growth, like good government, available land, attractive residential developments, good businesses and quality services.
Still, most observers agree that the primary driver for economic growth in Columbia County is our quality school system (students, teachers, administrators and facilities). As hundreds of new students and their families move into the county each year to enter our schools, hundreds of new homes, businesses and services are built to meet the demand.
In addition, our schools produce quality graduates who enter the local job market and further stimulate our economy by attracting new businesses and industry to our area.
Let's keep the momentum going and build the necessary facilities to meet our growing educational needs. Please go to the polls on Tuesday and vote to extend the 1-cent SPLOST. It's the right thing to do for our children and our community.
(Tim McGill is chairman of the board of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.)
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