Originally created 01/08/97

County plans how to spend $40 million



Columbia County school trustees will outline their plan to spend $40 million in expected sales tax revenue at a public forum Thursday.

The meeting at Evans High slated for 7 p.m. will be citizens' only formal opportunity to help shape the construction and debt-reduction plan. School board members will vote Jan. 14 on what plan they'll present to voters in March.

"It's an alternative method of paying tax," said board Chairman Ray Hicks. "Instead of paying with property tax it's paying with sales tax. This is just another way to cover the cost of education and buildings."

The plan, if it passes voters' approval in March, would be used to fund approximately $20 million in construction and renovations, and to retire $23 million in existing debt.

School trustees say the referendum comes at a time when operating costs are increasing in the $80 million school system. They hope to offset the burden on property taxpayers by collecting the 1 cent tax on each dollar spent in the county. The estimated yearly sales tax revenue would be $7.5 million per year.

Trustees are leaning toward a sales tax plan that would retire debt at a rate of 3.25 mills per year. That would help offset the expected 2 mill increase next year in operating cost. If that scenario happens it would mean a $50 reduction for property tax owners of a $100,000 home.

The list of building projects and renovations the tax would help fund include the following, in order of priority:

þA $330,000 computer and technology lab at Lakeside High and renovation of the Evans High technology lab with both being completed in August.

þA purchase of up to $1 million of land in Grovetown for a middle school and possibly an elementary school to be completed sometime after this five-year building plan. The school board is favoring a 100-acre site near Old Thomson Road and Harlem Grovetown Road, but haven't made a decision. The land would likely be purchased in April.

þStadium improvements at the county's four high schools totaling $1.85 million with a completion date of August.

þClassroom additions at Blue Ridge Elementary School totaling $1.17 million with a completion date of January 1999.

þA new $11.4 million middle school at the Greenbrier high and elementary schools complex with a completion date of fall 2000

þAbout $250,000 of renovations for Crossroads alternative school to move to a Grovetown location with an unknown completion date.

þAbout $12 million in renovations are needed in the 24-school system and they will be completed with money from the sales tax and from the operating budget, Superintendent Tom Dohrmann said.