Four midstate counties approve sales tax referendums

Telegraph staffMarch 19, 2013 

Voters in four Middle Georgia counties approved sales tax referendums Tuesday, including a $28 million education tax in Monroe County that, among other things, will be used to build a state-of-the-art fine arts center.

Elsewhere, voters in Jones and Crawford counties approved their own education sales taxes -- commonly known as E-LOSTs -- while Washington County voters agreed to an $18.75 million special purpose local option sales tax that most notably will pay for a new county jail.

In Monroe County, voters overwhelmingly approved the E-LOST in a 610-216 contest. The tax will run for five years or until $28 million is collected, whichever comes first.

“We’re so pleased the community saw the importance of (the tax) and put their confidence behind it,” said Jackson Daniel, Monroe County’s assistant superintendent of support services. “I think the community wants what’s best for the students.”

The referendum’s centerpiece project is a $7.5 million fine arts center that will be able to seat more than 1,200 people.

Additionally, the tax will pay for building wireless infrastructure in the county’s schools, buying e-textbooks and increasing security in the county’s schools. About $1.1 million would pay for new carpet and paint at Hubbard Elementary School and the Banks Stephens Middle School building, which is now housing seventh- and eighth-graders.

The tax also will cover the purchase of band instruments and library books as well as new school buses and other maintenance equipment.

But it was the fine arts center that lit a fire under Percell Kelley, who has grandchildren in the county school system and who actively worked to get the E-LOST passed.

“The arts mean so much to our students,” he said.

Kelley said the center will feature state-of-the-art sound and lighting for productions, dressing rooms and a gallery for student artwork to be displayed.

It also will be able to accommodate more people than any current building in the county.

“Several times I’ve had to stand” at school functions because of a lack of space, he said. “Having this fine arts center is certainly a step in the right direction.”

In Jones County, voters overwhelmingly approved the education sales tax in a vote of 870-182.

Officials expect the penny-on-the-dollar tax will bring in $16 million over five years. The county will begin collecting the tax after the current education sales tax expires in March 2014.

The first priority for the money is building a new Gray Elementary School. The current facility was built in the early 1960s and would need extensive plumbing, lighting, and heating and cooling work.

Jones County school officials said it would be more economical to build a new school from the ground up than try to renovate the current school.

The sales tax revenue also would pay for a single building for ninth-graders at Jones County High School. Other projects on the tax list are upgrades at other Jones County schools and athletic facilities, safety upgrades and new textbooks.

In Crawford County, a $4.5 million E-LOST referendum passed 169-107.

Elections official Frank Holmes said the total was unofficial late Tuesday with all precincts reporting.

The money raised from the one-cent tax will be used for the county’s general fund, education and instructional material.

Meanwhile, Washington County voters gave the SPLOST referendum the go-ahead in a 752-546 vote count.

The tax is expected to raise $18.75 million to pay for a new county jail, a new EMA radio system, transportation upgrades in the county and various improvements in the county’s municipalities.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Andy M. Drury, call 744-4477. To contact writer Harold Goodridge, call 744-4382.

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