published Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Voters OK 1 percent tax extensions


by Adam Crisp

VOTES

Catoosa --- Yes: 1,364 -- No: 185

Murray --- Yes: 1,691 -- No:139

Walker --- Yes: 1,124 -- No: 379

County: county registrars

Voters in three North Georgia counties have approved special 1 percent taxes worth tens of millions of dollars for public education.

Voters in Catoosa, Murray and Walker counties turned out in low numbers, but all three communities approved the measures by more than 3-to-1 margins.

With all results tallied, Catoosa passed the measure 1,364 to 185. Murray had 1,691 votes for and 139 votes against. Walker voters approved the tax 1,124 to 379.

Georgia law requires the ballot initiatives receive 50 percent plus one vote to pass.

“I think the overwhelming support that we are seeing here demonstrates the strong partnership that the school system has with the citizens of Catoosa County,” said Superintendent Denia Reese.

The five-year sales tax measures add 1 percent tax to every retail purchase. State law says the money can only be used for capital outlays such as construction, computer purchases and other classroom fixtures.

In Whitfield County, which is considering an ESPLOST vote in November, the issue has been controversial and the city mayor has called on the school board not to ask for another ESPLOST.

In Murray County, the renewal means the county won’t have to increase property taxes.

The school system needed the ESPLOST to satisfy about $17.5 million in outstanding bonds on the $40 million North Murray High School. The system paid for most of the school with the previous ESPLOST.

“In the original referendum, it was disclosed that it would be a 10-year payback, so we tried to remind people of that,” said Anita Thornton, chairwoman of the ESPLOST lobbying group, Citizens for Building Better Schools. “We tried to spread the word about the ESPLOST as much as possible.”

Without the sales tax renewal, Murray officials said a tax increase would be necessary.

Walker County plans to use its $30 million SPLOST proceeds to fund several building renovation projects.

Catoosa also has plans to renovate buildings and pay for technology upgrades with its ESPLOST dollars.

Sales tax rates won’t change in June 2012 when the current ESPLOST expires. Instead, the tax rates will continue at 7 percent until 2017 in all three counties.

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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