By Tia Lynn Ivey
The Morgan County School System is banking on the voters of Morgan County this election cycle to pay off part of its debt for the $50 million new schools projects. If the one penny sales tax is voted down by voters, the school board says it will have no other choice than to raise property taxes.
“If it is voted down, the school system still has to pay its debt. If it is not passed the only way we will have to pay our debt is to raise the millage rate,” said Keith Howard, a member of the Morgan County Board of Education at Monday night’s regular meeting.
On the ballot for the Nov. 3 Election, voters will be asked whether or not ESPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) should be renewed. The sales tax has the potential to raise up to $27 million over the course of the next five years.
ESPLOST is a one penny sales tax that has been a major funding mechanism for the school system for decades. It must be voted on every five years in order to renew it. The new ESPLOST is poised to pay off some of the debt incurred from building the new High School, new Middle School, the career academy and transportation facility.
The school system believes a sales tax is a better way to garner funding than raising property taxes. ESPLOST has enabled the school system to adopt the rollback millage rate in recent years.
“The good thing about an ESPLOST is it is paid for in part by people who live outside Morgan County,” said Dr. Virgil Cole, superintendent of Morgan County Schools during Monday’s regular meeting.
According to the school system, ESPLOST also bring in money from visitors and tourists, so the tax burden is not solely on Morgan County residents for school funding. “Non-residents and out-of-country visitors pay over 60 percent of local sales taxes,” said a statement from the school system.
The new ESPLOST is poised to pay off some of the debt incurred from building the new High School, new Middle School, the career academy and transportation facility.
In the past, ESPLOST funds have also been used for a variety of important projects to improve education in Morgan County. “ESPLOST has facilitated the construction of the Freshman Academy, new gym at the Primary School, an additional computer lab at the Primary School, playground equipment at both the Primary and Elementary schools, upgrades to the school’s security systems, Upgrades to HVAC units, New Buses, Band Instruments, Athletic Facility upgrades, Upgrades for handicap accessibility, Ongoing system-wide renovations to classrooms, Staff virtual desktop computers, Staff mobile devices, Servers, Upgrades to phone systems, Networking and Wireless Upgrades, Replacement of classroom video projectors. Additionally, funds will be used to replace Smart Boards in the classroom, Renovate the Primary School Hill Building, Renovate bathrooms at the Middle School, Add awnings and sidewalks at the Elementary School, and Construction of a new College and Career Academy.”