published Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Boards want ESPLOST continued in Whitfield County

WHAT'S NEXT?


Whitfield County voters will vote Nov. 8 whether to keep a 1 cent sales tax to pay for education projects in Whitfield County and Dalton city schools.

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DALTON, Ga.—Whitfield County voters will be given the chance to vote on continuing a 1 cent sales tax used to fund education projects in county and city schools.

Dalton and Whitfield County school board members met jointly Thursday to approve the resolution, which is set to be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.

If approved, this will be the county's third round of the education special purpose local option sales tax.

According to the resolution, the sales tax is expected to raise up to $105 million over five years, with about $68 million going to county schools and $36 million to city schools.

Eric Beavers, spokesman for Whitfield County Schools, said the system expects to use the money mostly to pay off debt and beef up infrastructure and technology in existing schools.

"We have sewer improvements, roofs and floors that need to be repaired," Beavers said. "We aren't planning on building any new schools -- this is for things like fixing leaking roofs."

The current ESPLOST helped pay for construction of Coahulla Creek High School and Eastbrook Middle School.

Dalton Schools Superintendent Jim Hawkins told school board members Tuesday that the system's wish list has more than $60 million in projects.

Likely uses include easing overcrowding at Dalton Middle School and changes to Morris Innovative High School, where the board is considering revamping an industrial building to accommodate growth.

In a session that lasted only about 15 minutes Thursday, board members did not discuss details of the ESPLOST resolution or uses for the tax. Both boards were unanimous for approval.

"This is a win-win situation," Whitfield County board member Thomas Barton said after the vote. "We just have to be sure we explain it to everyone. We have to let the public know how important it is."

County resident Mary Thelma Norris said she could not disagree more with the school boards' vote.

Norris attended the meeting and was the only person to speak in opposition to the tax.

"I oppose this 100 percent, 1,000 percent," she said. "As a taxpayer, I do not feel you guys have been fiscally responsible."

Norris said she no longer has children in the school systems but her children attended Dalton and Whitfield County schools.

The school systems do not work together to save money or see how they could combine schools to save space rather than building new ones, she said. They do not allow taxpayers any input into their budgets or spending decisions, she said.

"The only time you guys want to work together is when you want to raise our taxes," she told the board.

County residents can't afford to keep paying high taxes during a difficult economic time, she said.

Norris said other residents share her feelings and predicted they will work together to try to defeat the ESPLOST vote.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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