Getting ELOST: An explication of the proposed education-oriented local sales tax
By Kathryn Schiliro i File Photo
Despite the deluge last Thursday evening, about 15 Morgan County residents (the vast majority of whom are currently employed by or affiliated with the Morgan County School System) attended the ELOST IV Informational Session led by Superintendent Dr. Stan DeJarnett.
Through the aid of a digital presentation, DeJarnett lectured the intimate group about ELOSTs – what the tax is and the history of ELOSTs in the county – before delving into ELOST IV's proposed projects and answering questions posed by the audience.
For Morgan County Citizen readers who couldn't make it to the meeting, consider this your ELOST IV primer.
What is an ELOST?
An ELOST, which stands for "Education Local Option Sales Tax," is a form of a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). According to the Georgia Department of Education Web site (doe.k12.ga.us), ELOSTs were established in the state in November 1996, when Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment that "allows LBOEs (local Boards of Education) the option of calling for a referendum to ask their voters to approve a SPLOST."
ELOST is a one percent sales tax; i.e., one penny of every dollar spent on goods and services within Morgan County goes to the local Board of Education.
Funds raised through the tax can only be used for facilities, technology and transportation; they cannot be used for personnel or supplies.
An ELOST cannot last more than 20 calendar quarters, which equates to 60 months or five years. The tax ends when the five-year deadline is reached or when the amount proposed is collected, whichever happens first.
ELOSTs in Morgan County
ELOST I totaled more than $5.8 million and funded the renovation of Morgan County Primary School, including a new media center, eight classrooms and art and music rooms; the addition of four classrooms at Morgan County Elementary School; and the expansion and renovation of the Morgan County High School cafeteria.
ELOST II totaled more than $8.2 million and provided money for the addition of an administrative suite, 12 classrooms (including two science labs) and the upgrading and renovation of the kitchen and cafeteria at Morgan County Middle School; and the addition of science labs as well as band and ROTC classrooms at Morgan County High School.
ELOST III, which ends in November 2010, was approved by Morgan County voters in September 2005 and totals $21,260,500. Why so much more? ELOST III includes the cost of a new elementary school, a project that isn't going to happen within the current ELOST. Construction on the school, originally slated to begin in fall 2010, was delayed to fall 2012.
"With sales tax revenues down, we are not going to collect the money we thought we were going to collect," DeJarnett said. "Also, our enrollment flattened out."
Further, 20 percent of the proceeds from ELOST III went to instructional technology, including computers (each Morgan County teacher and administrator has their own laptop), SMARTBoards and infrastructure. Other projects funded by ELOST III include the construction of the Board of Education offices; Morgan County Elementary School gymnasium, a facility also used by the Morgan County Recreation Department, according to DeJarnett; and Morgan County High School's stadium and gymnasium.
Funding from all three of these ELOSTs contributed to transportation, or the purchase of buses.
According to Director of Operations Bob Monk, the Morgan County School System maintains a fleet of 42 buses, and the replacement cycle requires the purchase of three to four new buses per year.
"We really want to make sure our buses are not more than 10 years old if they're on routes," DeJarnett said.
The cost of a new bus comes to about $80,000, and state allotments provide for the cost of about one and a third new buses a year; so, the local school system spends roughly $120,000 on buses each year. (Due to the financial crisis, however, the local Board of Education purchased no new buses in last school year.)
More on ELOST IV
ELOST IV is set to cap out at $29,575,000 and, according to the resolution, provides for "acquiring, constructing, equipping and furnishing" a new elementary school along with new auditoriums and media centers for existing schools; "adding to, renovating, repairing, improving and equipping" current structures, specifically adding classrooms and HVAC systems by remaking existing spaces; obtaining "new equipment, fixtures and furnishings" like computers and computer software, technology for security system-wide and school buses; purchasing real property; and purchasing capital property.
What does this really mean? Let's make the math work.
As far as cost estimates used by the board to plan for the tax: "All ELOST IV costs for facilities...were estimates given to us by architects," DeJarnett said. "It could be less than expected, it could be more than expected."
• More than $11.7 million in funds from ELOST IV is to be set aside for the building of the new
kindergarten-through-fifth-grade elementary school in Rutledge. The school will cost more than the amount proposed, but there are leftover ELOST III funds as well as state money to factor in.
DeJarnett anticipates that the school will be much-needed by its proposed beginning construction date of fall 2012. "This year, we've had a higher enrollment than expected; the last few years it has been flat," DeJarnett said.
• Instructional technology, at $5.8 million, will again account for 20 percent of collection.
• The plan allows $1.1 million for the purchase of school buses, roughly three per year for a total of 15 buses.
• In additional to these proposals, the board is calling for $500,000 to "add [and/or] modernize athletic facilities" and $1 million for security equipment, HVAC upgrades, roof replacement and paving.
Morgan County Primary School
• At a proposed total of almost $2 million, ELOST IV is set to provide a new gymnasium pavilion at the primary school to rival the same facility currently in place at the elementary school, according to DeJarnett. The facilities should be "equivalent to the new K-5 school," DeJarnett said.
Morgan County Elementary School
There are no proposed projects on the ELOST IV docket for the current elementary school. "We built a new gym for them with ELOST III, four classrooms with ELOST I," DeJarnett said. "We're going to build a new elementary school. That's why the list is kind of small; enrollment growth will be taken care of by the new elementary school."
Morgan County Middle School
• At a proposed total of $100,000, ELOST IV accounts for the addition of air conditioning to the gymnasium at the middle school.
• A proposed expansion of the middle school's cafeteria and performance stage – described by DeJarnett as a "multi-use space" – totals $795,000.
Morgan County High School
• At a total of more than $3.2 million, the proposal calls for the construction of a 12-classroom building and common area that should take the place of the current Freshmen Academy and portable classrooms.
• A proposed new performing arts auditorium, to be located between the high school's main building and the current auditorium, is set to cost more than $5.7 million. According to DeJarnett, the current auditorium at the high school seats 505 people and has no backstage area.
He further alluded to the idea that, with SPLOST funding from the county, the auditorium could double as a civic center and both entities could use the facility.
• According to DeJarnett, a new media center is needed at the high school, as the current media center was built to accommodate about 600 students; the school's enrollment has grown to 1,000. The facility is also slated to be moved to the middle of campus. The cost? More than $1.1 million.
• At a proposed cost of more than $749,000, the existing media center is to be converted into two to three classrooms.
Morgan County CrossRoads Alternative School
• At more than $427,000, CrossRoads is set to receive a proposed addition of two classrooms as well as an upgrade to the restroom facility.
The total on all of these proposed projects, system-wide and in individual schools, comes to $34,395,728.
In regard to revenues, ELOST IV is set to total $29,575,000. Add $2,449,491 in remaining ELOST III funds (this is an estimate; ELOST III doesn't end until November 2010) and $2,371,237 in state capital outlay funds, or entitlement money from the state saved up over 18 years (since the construction of the current elementary school), and the incoming funding matches the cost of the proposed projects.
Lobbying for the support of Morgan County voters, DeJarnett explained:
• ELOST IV is to be "a continuation of the one penny [one percent] sales tax, not an additional sales tax.”
• Between 50 and 90 percent in sales tax funding comes from non-Morgan County residents. According to DeJarnett, the Madison-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and local merchants estimated 60 percent; businesses near the Interstate, specifically fuel distributors, 80 percent; and some hotel/motel and restaurant owners gave an even higher estimate.
"If we can collect [at least] half of the sales taxes from non-county residents, this means the property owners aren't paying the tax," DeJarnett said.
• Further, according to the presentation, "one year of sales tax revenue collected is worth 2.5 to 3 mills in property tax."
• Referencing the deteriorated situation in Clayton County, DeJarnett pointed out that the "economic vitality of a county is directly related to its public school system."
• Finally, DeJarnett pointed out what he believes to be good financial stewardship on the part of the board.
"We've built as we could pay," DeJarnett said.
DeJarnett has plans for the board to be involved in an election forum at the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
ELOST IV is set to go before Morgan County voters in a county-wide election on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Early voting will begin Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Printed in the 9-25-09 edition.