A new elementary school, buses and even band instruments are a few of the wide-ranging items Lumpkin County residents will have the chance to authorize if they cast a vote for the continuation of the existing E-SPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) on the March 24, 2020 ballot.
The list of potential projects was recently released by the Lumpkin County Board of Education, with a special clarification from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Rob Brown.
“It’s important to understand that this is not a new tax,” he said. “This is a continuation of the current E-SPLOST.”
The last E-SPLOST passed in 2012 and runs out Sept. 30, 2021.
The new E-SPLOST would pick up from there for five more years, with an anticipated revenue of $25 million.
The largest investment, should the new E-SPLOST pass, would be real estate and construction costs for a new elementary school.
“Lumpkin County Elementary school is 52 years old,” Brown said. “And the infrastructure is beginning to fail with the volume of students and staff it serves.”
The board is looking at several sites, he said, but haven’t completed their search.
“It is our hope to find a location which would not merit changing of any existing school attendance zones,” he added.
BUILDINGS AND BUSES
The high school and Blackburn Elementary are scheduled for renovations and modifications if the ESPLOST should pass.
The high school, still considered “new” to some, will soon be 20 years old. Blackburn was built in 2003.
Both schools are in the district’s Georgia Capital Outlay Plan, making them eligible for state funding to help defray costs. But the district must pay for the work. up front before being eligible to receive reimbursement, Brown said.
Buses will take another big bite of the potential tax money collected. The board is hoping to replace between 10 and 20 buses, depending on the amount collected.
“We run 55 route buses each day including regular and special education buses. We keep 20 extra buses on hand as substitutes and parts buses. These buses are outdated and some are inoperable,” Brown said.
Of the buses running daily routes, Brown said, 23 are between 10 and 15-years- old and the remainder are older than that.
“And old buses are very costly to maintain and operate,” he said. “They require much more service than newer model buses.”
BAND AND BONDS
Lower on the list of ESPLOST projects are the purchase of band instruments, new technology such as computer software and hardware, safety and security equipment, other items for the schools and improvements for athletic facilities.
“We do not anticipate any major athletic facility needs other than resurfacing of the track and possibly adding some practice fields. These are lower priority items and depend on revenues,” Brown said.
Also included in the $25 million is the cost of issuing a bond for the amount of the E-SPLOST. The BOC plans to issue bonds so the major projects can get underway as soon as possible.
Issuing bonds, said Brown, is a common way for “districts who have major project needs such as building a school or completing renovations and modifications. This is how Lumpkin built and paid for Blackburn Elementary and Lumpkin County High School.”
Right now bond rates are low and the cost of construction keeps going up from four to eight percent every year, he said.
“Waiting to build while you save enough money to pay for it all at once is cost-prohibitive. A school that you can build for $16-18 million this year may cost $5-6 million more to build in five years. With bond rates as low as they are, it is much more cost-effective to include a bond referendum.”
Passage of the E-SPLOST would be a continuation of the one-cent-on-the-dollar tax local taxpayers and visitors pay on purchases within the county.