Originally created 08/25/06

Tax proposal goes to voters



It got school board approval, and now it's up to Richmond County voters to decide the fate of a sales tax package just shy of $230 million.

All seven board members present Thursday voted to approve the list of projects, despite strong opposition voiced by fellow board member Ken Echols earlier in the week.

Neither he nor Jimmy Atkins were at the meeting to ask voters to extend the current 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax.

Voters will have their say Nov. 7.

Feeling rushed to make a decision, board members slid under a short deadline in hopes of securing $6.2 million from the state for the construction of a new south Augusta middle school. The action came less than a week after the board's only meeting to formally discuss the list of projects.

"It has come up, but we have just not addressed it," board President Marion Barnes said, adding that members have had the list of proposed projects for several months.

The board approved the special sales tax package as discussed Saturday, with the addition of $2 million in HVAC work for Morgan Road Middle and Jamestown Elementary schools.

The list of projects is what the board "intends" to do and can be changed should errors be found, additional contingency projects arise or priorities change, board attorney Pete Fletcher told the board.

It's that concern for priorities that knocked athletics projects farther down the list.

"I think we spent a good bit of money on athletics in the second SPLOST," board member Helen Minchew said afterward. "I think it needs to be on a lower tier."

The largest athletic project is the $10.6 million stadium and athletic complex at Hephzibah High School.

John McLeod, who has held the punting record there since 1958, looks forward to the day when his team won't be in the old stadium anymore.

"I would be tickled to death to have a new stadium," he said. "When I played, I don't even remember it being fenced in."

And board member Joe Scott hopes the public considers its priorities at the polls. How residents vote shows where they place education in their priorities.

He recalled attending Richmond County schools in the late 1940s, a time when schoolchildren had to gather wood and keep fires burning to ensure warmth.

Board members sidestepped the issue of consolidating National Hills and Garrett elementary schools - at least for now.

Among the construction projects on the list is a new Garrett Elementary School for up to 650 pupils.

The school currently has fewer than 300 pupils, but the scope of a new school could be scaled down even after voters approve the project should board members decide not to consolidate, Mr. Fletcher said.

A decision either way isn't likely until board members first meet with the community, he said.

Closing the schools, which are only blocks apart, would save about $1.5 million a year in operating costs.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

Voters will decide on the local option sales tax package Nov. 7.


BY THE NUMBERS


3: Schools to be built in the top tier of priorities


5: Total schools to be built


5: Years of the tax collection


29: Total number of projects


$229.99: Millions of dollars of the special purpose local option sales tax package


295: Number of new classrooms to be built


Source: Richmond County Board of Education