Renewing ESPLOST is crucial for our school system

Published 4:18 pm Friday, March 3, 2017

By Tim Cochran, Decatur County Schools Superintendent

On March 21, 2017, the Decatur County Schools will be having an election to renew the Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST). An “ESPLOST” is the option for a local school system to call a referendum approving a one percent sales tax for school construction and/or retire bond debt.  The penny sales tax spreads the responsibility of educating our children to all citizens and visitors of the community. Anyone who spends money in Decatur County is funding the ESPLOST, regardless of whether or not the person lives in the county. This is not a new tax; it is simply a continuation of the current tax already in place.

The EPLOST is very important to Decatur County Schools. It allows the School System to maintain its buildings, transportation vehicles, technology equipment and other equipment without having to raise the local tax rate for property owners. The ESPLOST spreads the cost out to all citizens that spend money in Decatur County along with all of the visitors that shop and eat as they visit and pass through our community.

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The last three schools built in Decatur County—West Bainbridge, Jones-Wheat and Bainbridge High School—were all built by using ESPLOST dollars exclusively. No property tax money was used to construct those buildings. When the high school was built its cost was spread out over several ESPLOST cycles because of the higher cost involved with building a high school. That debt for the high school construction is in the form of bonds. If the ESPLOST fails on March 21, it would take a property tax increase of at least 2 mills for five years just to cover the existing bond debt.

Not only is the debt retirement a must for Decatur County Schools, transportation and technology cost are an ongoing expense not fully funded by the state that ESPLOST helps cover. Decatur County Schools receive enough money from the state to replace almost one bus a year. With the 80 buses in the fleet the system needs to replace three to five a year just to keep the fleet properly maintained and in good repair. Technology is also something that must be replaced from year to year. On the average we need to replace most computers within five to six years as their software becomes obsolete. The State funds very little money for computer purchases and doesn’t fund any replacement money for computers, so all of that cost falls to the local system. Without the ESPLOST it would take additional increases to property taxes to cover the needs for transportation and technology.

In summary, the ESPLOST is very important to Decatur County Schools. It allows the system to provide modern, safe and secure facilities while also allowing the system to update and maintain its buses and technology equipment and infrastructure. Without the ESPLOST the system could not operate efficiently and meet its debt obligations without a significant tax increase to property owners. No one likes taxes but all taxes are not bad. Local communities benefit from quality schools and quality education and those programs cannot function without taxes. An ESPLOST tax is one of the fairest taxes because it spreads the obligation out to every citizen and visitor that spends money in Decatur County while keeping property taxes at a reasonable rate.

Please support the ESPLOST referendum on March 21, 2017, and help keep Decatur County Schools moving in the right direction, “The Bearcat Way.”