A 1-cent sales tax for Columbia County schools and a bond issue that will help build new schools easily passed a Tuesday referendum.
Carolyn Culp prepares to vote on the Columbia County special purpose local option sales tax issue at precinct 134 at the Evans Government Center. Fewer than 3,500 people voted in the special election, with 86 percent approving the tax extension.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Voters elected to continue the sales tax by 2,943 to 465.
"We can all exhale and continue with our building program," said Regina Buccafusco, the chairwoman of the Columbia County Board of Education.
More than 86 percent of Tuesday's voters approved extending the special purpose local option sales tax from July 2007 to June 2012.
Fewer than 3,500 voters cast ballots for the sales tax question for a meager 5.71 percent turnout. Before the special election, Debbie Marshall, the director of the Columbia County Board of Elections, predicted a 10 percent voter turnout.
"I'm very disappointed in the turnout," she said.
Buccafusco said she, too, was dismayed by the lack of interest.
"I am surprised it is this low," she said. "That's discouraging, but I'm glad the people that came out were on our side."
School officials also received voter permission in the sales tax question to seek as much as $30 million in bonds for school capital improvement projects.
Funds obtained through a bond and repaid by the sales tax will pay for the construction of six new schools and land purchases, buy computers for classrooms, purchase new buses and repair schools.
"Part of this (sales tax) is keeping the quality of our facilities," Buccafusco said. "I'm glad voters recognized that."
The five-year sales tax is expected to bring in $90 million to $115 million, school officials said.
If school officials max out the $30 million bond limit, the system could end up $50 million in debt. However, sales tax revenues at the end of the five-year tax cycle could produce a nearly debt-free system with less than $3 million left to pay on outstanding bond debt, the school board's controller's office said.
"If we don't have the (sales tax), we have to find the money elsewhere," Buccafusco said. "We need classrooms for the students. If we didn't have it, we'd have to raise the (mill rate), and nobody wants to do that."
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