Come Tuesday, Jones County voters will decide whether to approve a multimillion-dollar sales tax initiative for education projects, with most of that money pledged toward building a new Gray Elementary School.
Monroe County voters will also go to the polls Tuesday to decide on their own $28 million education local option sales tax proposal that would take effect in 2014.
The Jones County sales tax proposal will raise $16 million or end in five years, whichever comes first.
If approved, the ELOST would take effect after the current $13.5 million education sales tax runs out in March 2014.
Jones County Superintendent William Mathews said having the ELOST in place means property owners dont have to shoulder as much of the responsibility to pay for school projects.
No one likes taxes, but generally, thats the fairest way to do it, Mathews said of the extra penny sales tax on the dollar. It gives us the opportunity to address the facility needs of the children in a timely manner.
Building a new Gray Elementary School, which serves about 700 students, is the first priority of school district officials, Mathews said. The schools main building was constructed in the early 1960s, and while the outside of the building is still in pretty good shape, Gray Elementary needs major plumbing, lighting and heating and cooling upgrades, among other things.
Basically, it would be more economical to start all over again, he said.
The school district is expecting to issue about $12.5 million in bonds to cover the projected $11 million cost of building a new school, Mathews said. Jones County will also get $4.3 million from the state toward the project.
Completing other projects will depend on the bids the district receives for Gray Elementary, but the next big-ticket item would be a building to house ninth-graders at Jones County High School.
Ninth-graders there already attend classes at a building about two miles from the high schools main campus. However, keeping them closer to upperclassmen would make it easier for ninth-graders to take part in electives such as band or career tech classes, as well as make running both campuses more efficient, Mathews said.
Other proposed projects include repairs and upgrades at other Jones County schools, safety upgrades, improvements to athletic facilities and buying instructional materials and textbooks.
The ELOST has received backing from local organizations including the Jones County/Gray Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed the education penny tax in February.
Our school system is top notch. Its very reputable, said Kathyjo Gordon, the executive director of both the chamber and the countys development authority. A lot of folks move here because of our school system.
Jones County school board member Deloras Moon said she has appreciated the support of residents who have approved the ELOST in the past.
Its been a marvelous way to expand buildings and improve them, Moon said. Its made all the difference in the world for our facilities.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.