The ballot that Oconee County voters will see on the screens of the voting machines for the Nov. 8 election has gotten fuller in recent weeks.
The Board of Commissioners on Aug. 2 put two referenda on Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages on the ballot.
A little more than a week earlier the Board of Education put a continuation of the county’s 1 percent educational sales tax on the ballot.
Three candidates-Ben Bridges, Chuck Horton and Marcus Wiedower--have qualified to run for the open slot on the Board of Commissioners, and their names, all listed as Republicans, will be on the Nov. 8 ballot as well.
The two Sunday sales referenda, the educational sales tax election, and the open BOC seat contest will add a local element to an election that otherwise is likely to be of interest primarily because of the presidential and U.S. Senate race at the top of the ballot.
Candidates for a range of local offices also will be on the ballot, but all are unopposed, since the county’s Democratic Party put up no candidates and the Republican nominations in the contested seats were decided in the May 24 primary.
The resolution passed unanimously by the Board of Education at its regular meeting on July 25 calls for “reimposition” of the 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for education currently being collected in the county.
The current tax is to expire no later than Dec. 31, 2017, and the new tax, if approved by a majority of voters, will take effect immediately on the cessation of the existing tax.
Money from the new tax is to be used for a variety of capital projects, including construction of new schools, administrative facilities, and service facilities as well as for renovation and repairs to existing facilities.
The tax also could support technology for the schools and administrative facilities, the purchase of property, and the purchase of school buses.
Voters also will be asked to authorize issuance of revenue bonds to pay for the capital projects. These bonds will be financed by revenue from the sales tax and can be issued before all of the tax is collected.
$45 Million Target
The question on the ballot in November states that the tax will expire in five years or when $45 million has been raised.
It also states that no more than $24.5 million in debt will be incurred through the “issuance of general obligation debt.”
The tax will be imposed either on Jan. 1, 2018, or upon the expiration of the current tax, which was approved on Nov. 8, 2011.
The current tax began on Jan. 1, 2013, and runs either until the county collects $33 million or until Dec. 31, 2017.
Projects Not Listed
The issue on the ballot does not list specific projects to be funded by the tax, stating instead the general types of capital projects to be covered.
The Oconee School System does have a five-year facilities plan that lists 13 different projects, ranging from a new elementary school, the system’s seventh, to a new Board of Education facility.
The projects would be funded from a combination of sources, depending on availability.
School Superintendent Dr. Jason Branch told me last (Saturday) night that the new primary school as well as classroom additions at Oconee County High School are the top priorities.
The expansions to the facilities are dictated by projected enrollment increases system-wide of 15.1 percent by 2020.
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Enrollments increased 12.5 percent from 2010 to 2016.
Oconee County High School already has enrollments exceeding the facility’s capacity, according to the data released by the school system.
Malcom Bridge Elementary, Rocky Branch Elementary and Malcolm Bridge Middle schools are close to capacity.
The five-year facilities plan also includes a new middle school, which would be the system’s third.
The school system has collected just less than $21.9 million in the first 42 months of the current educational SPLOST, according to data I downloaded from the Georgia Department of Revenue site.
I didn’t use January 2013 in the calculation, since distributions are delayed by a month from collection.
The amount collected is an average of $520,628 per month across the 42 months.
If that figure is projected forward, the system can expect to collect $30.5 million by the end of 2017.
Projection Of Take
Revenue has been averaging $577,387 for the first seven months of 2016, compared with the $520,628 for the 42 months as a whole.
If the average for the last seven months is used to project for the remaining 18 months, the system would collect $32.3 million.
Monthly revenues do not go up in a consistent way. In two of the last seven months, in fact, revenues actually were lower in 2016 than in 2015.
The law allows the system to collect for a whole quarter if the goal–in this case, $33 million–is not met by the start of the quarter.
The strategy is to set a projection higher than what actually is expected to be collected so that the tax runs through the full period.
The $45 million projection for the tax question on the ballot in November is consistent with that strategy.
Strong History Of Support
At present, Oconee County residents pay the 1 percent educational SPLOST, another 1 percent SPLOST for special and city capital projects, and a 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) designed to reduce city and county property taxes.
Residents also pay a 4 percent sales tax to the state.
County voters have a long history of support for local sales initiatives.
The first LOST was defeated in 1980, but it was approved in 1982.
Every SPLOST or educational SPLOST (formerly referred to as ELOST), has been approved since the first was proposed in 1985.
SPLOSTs must be renewed, but LOST is permanent once put into place.
In 2011, Oconee County voters approved the Educational SPLOST with 71.4 percent of those voting checking “Yes.” on the ballot.
Any knowledge of where the expected new elementary and middle schools will be located?
Our property taxes continue to increase every year. I for one will not support the continuation of any of them.
I am curious, and how can the school system be growing at 15.1% but on another post it was stated that the county would grow at 2%, somehow that does not add up...
The county's projections for wastewater planning is for ANNUAL population growth rates of between 1.5 percent and 1.9 percent.
The School System is projecting a 15.1% growth rate between now and 2020, i.e., over the next four-year period, not annually.
The percentages also are calculated on a different base so are not directly comparable.
I do not know the location of the new schools. I will see if I can learn more.
Oconee County School Superintendent Jason Branch confirmed in an email he sent me on Aug. 17, 2016, that the sites for the new elementary school and middle school have not yet been determined.
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