There is an old phrase, “Follow the money.” It can be used to describe a number of different situations. Most times it’s used as a pejorative in cases of corruption or government misspending or improper lobbying. At its base, “follow the money” can also be used in a biblical sense. Matt. 6:21, says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Last week, four Middle Georgia communities showed where their hearts are.
Monroe, Crawford and Jones counties responded with their wallets to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase for education (E-LOST). A fourth county, Washington, also passed a SPLOST to build a new jail. As state support of its schools has waned, with state lawmakers doing everything they can do to suck precious resources out of public education, some communities have stepped up. It’s no secret that state support of arts education has dwindled. Monroe County has recognized the extensive data set that points to higher academic achievement overall when the arts are included and it plans to build a $7.5 million, 1,200 seat, fine arts center that will have the highest seating capacity in the county. The center will be state of the art and support concerts, plays and other activities.
The Monroe E-LOST is expected to raise $28 million, and soon the district will be able to purchase more band instruments, library books and e-textbooks plus bring wireless infrastructure to the county’s schools.
Jones County plans to replace the 1960s-era Gray Elementary facility with a new one and build a ninth-graders only wing at Jones County High School. The $16 million expected to be raised over five years will also provide upgrades at other county schools and textbooks.
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Crawford County will use its expected $4.5 million in tax proceeds to help its general fund and pay for instructional materials. Washington County will spend $18.75 million to pay for a new jail, EMA radio system and some transportation upgrades.
There is some irony in the projects the counties have chosen to fund through increased sales taxes and the margins of approval. The Monroe County measure passed 3 to 1. Jones County’s measure passed at an even greater rate of almost 5 to 1, and Crawford County’s margin of victory was 62 votes out of 276 votes cast, Much closer was the tally in Washington County. Its projects, including a new jail, were approved by a 206-vote margin out of 1,298 votes cast.
Where’s the irony? By supporting education the counties may see less of a need to build new jails in the future. At least in Monroe, Jones and Crawford counties, they aren’t just talking about education, they are backing up their talk with their wallets.