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School bond issue, ESPLOST move closer to vote

POSTED: February 9, 2017 9:44 a.m.
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Voters will decide March 21 whether to renew the one-percent sales tax for capitol outlays for schools.

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A $100 million bond issue for new schools and the renewal of the penny sales tax for education, ESPLOST, will be up for voters to decide in March.

The deadline to register to vote in the March 21 referendum is Feb. 21, according to Bryan County Elections Superintendent Cindy Reynolds.

Voters will be asked whether Bryan County Schools can issue up to $100 million in general obligation bonds to pay for a number of projects, including a new Richmond Hill High School, a new middle school and a new elementary school.

The money also would go for upgrading current schools, according to a legal notice in today’s Bryan County News.

On the same ballot question, voters will be asked whether they want to renew the ESPLOST set to expire in 2018.

That penny tax would raise $32.5 million over five years to help pay for the bonds, which are due over a 25-year period, and fund other needs, included school buses, textbooks and other projects not covered under the bonds.

If the referendum passes, property owners will face a tax hike of roughly 1.6 mills to help pay for the bonds according to BoE Chairman Eddie Warren.

The school system’s millage rate at present is 15.537 mills.

There hasn’t been a millage rate hike by the BoE since 2009, when it raised the millage rate 2 mills, but Warren said the school system has to do something to handle booming enrollment. The system currently has about 9,000 students. Some projections have the district growing by 3,500 students over the next decade.

"With the growth we have and the needs we have coming up and at present time, this is really our only choice as far as being able to meet our needs financially," he said. "We can’t control growth, especially when we have a good school system people are moving here for. That’s not in the school board’s hands."

The school board approved the ballot initiative in December after a lengthy discussion.

The new high school will take about four years to build and be big enough for about 3,000 students.

School officials have said they hope to have the new school open by 2021, if they build it. But any new school won’t be cheap, particularly not a new high school with all the extras.

Warren said it could cost as much as $85 million, an amount that includes land, technology, equipment and sports facilities such as a gym and playing fields.

And if voters say no?

"If voters reject it we’re going to have to figure out another plan," Warren said. "And we’ll probably have to start buying trailers. We literally don’t have anywhere for more people to be."

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