Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

March 16, 2011

E-SPLOST passes

Voters agree to continue to honor the one cent sales tax for another five years

VALDOSTA — The one cent Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax was overwhelmingly approved by Lowndes County voters Tuesday night.

According to the Lowndes County Election Results website, 82.66 percent of 3,546 citizens who voted were in favor of the one cent sales tax.

The E-SPLOST extension will continue for no more than five years and will raise no more than $165 million for the local education system. Of that, $94,875,000 will benefit the Lowndes County School System and $70,125,000 will go towards the Valdosta City School System.

“I’m proud of this community,” said Fred Wetherington, Lowndes County Board of Education, District 2. “In this bad economy, all of us are under economic stress and for our community to support this E-SPLOST is a real testament that we want to continue educating our kids the best we can.”

The Lowndes County School Board plans to pay off its $39 million bond payments as its first priority, which were used to build Pine Grove Elementary School, Pine Grove Middle School and Westside Elementary School.

“A big chunk of the SPLOST passed tonight will be spent to repay. It's not real fancy or pretty but it’s what we laid out four years ago,” said Wetherington. “We have a list of other projects as well; renovations and expansions of cafeterias and of certain schools, and also technology upgrades.”

According to Wetherington, approximately 80 percent of the money will be spent on current facilities and renovations.

Wetherington also explained that Georgia lottery money was once used to cover technology and preschool, but since the money is no longer available, the SPLOST tax is vital to keep technology upgrades current.

“According to the University of Georgia, our school system ranked in the top ten for technology for students and teachers,” said Wetherington. “I think we’ll keep pushing the envelope to help kids enter whatever field they want to pursue. With the times we’re living in, it’s important to keep our students comfortable with technology.”

The Valdosta City School System plans to sell $25 million in bonds in SPLOST III funds to construct a new elementary school that will replace the Southeast Elementary School and to construct a replacement for West Gordon Elementary School.

“E-SPLOST is going to give us the ability to give the highest service to our children,” said Vanessa Flucas, Valdosta City Board of Education, District 2. “It will allow us to be on the forefront of a number of educational projects, which would be difficult to attain because of various governmental funding cutbacks.”

Other proposed projects for Valdosta City schools include new construction and renovations, along with buses, technology, band equipment and safety equipment.

“I’m delighted we can proceed forward with our capital improvement plans over the next few years,” said Dean Rexroth, Valdosta City Board of Education, District 4. “We’ve got a number of improvements planned and the next priority is the high school, but details aren’t ready yet for public consumption.”

According to Wetherington, board members are prohibited by law to influence votes for the E-SPLOST, but he admits that the many employed faculty and staff members of the education system who would be impacted by the vote would most likely vote in favor of the sales tax.

“I would imagine that a lot of those people who voted today would be the teachers, parents and families that realize how important these dollars are,” said Wetherington. “A lot of business owners are also probably in favor of the E-SPLOST, because they know that with Valdosta being a regional hub for commerce, about 52 percent of the money comes from out of town. It sort of makes it a no-brainer to help fund our schools.”

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