Worth the penny

Published 4:07 pm Friday, January 9, 2009

On the 20th of every month, businesses in Bainbridge and Decatur County write a check to the Georgia Department of Revenue, Sales and Use Tax Division. The amount on the check represents the sales taxes merchants have collected the previous month, seven cents on the dollar.

Some may think the number high—seven cents of every dollar going back to the state in sales taxes. But it all doesn’t go to state bank accounts, three cents of the seven is returned to Bainbridge and Decatur County to be used for homegrown projects. Two cents goes to county and local city governments and one cent to the schools.

Best part about one cent of that it has to be spent on capital improvements, such as roads, new equipment, water and sewer systems, reconstruction of old buildings, etc.

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It’s amazing the millions of dollars over the years that penny for schools, for example, has generated. Without that penny, our schools would be in deplorable condition, rundown buildings, unsafe for inhabitation, possibly some condemned.

School boards and superintendents these past few years have spent that penny wisely. As that penny has grown into millions during the past few years, we have seen improvements, additions and modernization to almost every school building in Decatur County. That penny also has constructed a new West Bainbridge Elementary School, modernized Hutto Middle School, and other elementary schools, and now millions are being spent constructing a new high school.

One might ask, for example, did that penny raise enough to finance the entire $50 million or so to build the new high school, but for the help of other funds from the state, the penny from the sales tax has been able to match other funds available for school construction.

One might ask, do we really need a high school that costs in excess of $50 million? How was it determined that we needed such a structure of that magnitude, who made those decisions, who pushed the hardest for it? Those might be legitimate questions, but the building is up, nearly complete, and classes start this fall in what may be the finest high school in the state.

Which leads to another question. Which would you rather have in our community? Schools that are modern, up to date, safe and secure, with all the teaching amenities available to teach and for students to learn in a positive atmosphere? Or the alternatives?

Add to all the millions we have spent in upgrading and modernizing existing schools, then building new schools in Bainbridge and Decatur County, then add the Bainbridge College campus facilities and their plans for expansion of the college, and you have here a huge investment in education.

Does any other county in Georgia match up?

It might be a worthwhile question to ponder, but there is an upside to it all. If you were an outside industry looking to relocate your manufacturing facilities, and move in supervisors and workers and their families, what is one amenity that would be most important? My guess would be the community’s attitude toward education.

Acquiring industry and new jobs into a community takes more than top-notch schools. They want to know what other amenities and incentives are part of the package. Any industrial recruiter will tell you that to get industry to move in, you have to buy the jobs with incentives and amenities such as tax breaks, available buildings, moderate leases or purchase prices, plus easy access to markets, etc.

In the past, we had the attitude that Bainbridge and Decatur County is a great place to live and raise a family, which it was and still is, so that should have been enough to attract new jobs. It wasn’t enough. If you want proof, check out the industrial parks in Cairo and Thomasville, for example, then compare what we have here. We simply got a late start on new ideas.

We have the educational buildings, the qualified teachers and the programs par excellence here in Decatur County, and the students are coming through grandly in statewide testing and competition.

That penny tax for education has paid off big time. Think about next time the merchants says $5.95 for the six pack and adds 42 cents for sales tax.