Voters said yes Tuesday to renewing ESPLOST and a $100 million bond issue to build schools, including a new high school in South Bryan expected to cost $85 million.
At the same time, Pembroke voters approved two ballot measures regarding the sale of alcohol on Sunday that proponents say could spark economic development in the city.
In both cases, turnout was light. Only 1,194 voters bothered to participate in the special election, despite nearly a month of advance voting. That’s less than 6 percent of the county’s 21,676 registered voters.
"I thought it would be a low turnout," Election Supervisor Cindy Reynolds said. "But it was lower than I expected."
Despite the apparent disinterest among the majority of county voters, proponents of the ESPLOST and bond issue, which unofficially passed 846-344, say it will help the school system stay ahead of growth while keeping property taxes down.
This despite the fact officials have acknowledged there will be a millage rate increase to help pay back the bonds.
Bryan County School Board Chairman Eddie Warren said the vote means property owners won’t have to shoulder all the burden of paying for new schools in a system that expects to add 4,000 students in the next decade.
"This gives our system the opportunity to provide for the students of Bryan County the facilities they deserve in order to garner the education that will help them develop into well-rounded and productive members of society," Warren said. "It also allows us to accomplish some of our goals and fulfill some of our needs without placing all of the burden on our taxpayers."
In Pembroke, voters approved the Sunday sale of alcohol by the drink in restaurants by a 103-47 margin. In a closer vote, 99-51, they also said yes to the retail sale of beer and wine on Sundays.
City Councilwoman Tiffany Walraven said the council and Mayor Judy Cook wanted voters to decide whether they wanted the city to allow Sunday sales, and they did.
"The mayor and council have given the citizens the opportunity to choose what they want for the community," Walraven said. "This is an opportunity to keep sales local and increase local revenue rather than losing it to adjacent cities and counties. The passage of the two referendums have a potential to open up other opportunities for our community as well."
It’s unclear when the new Sunday sales laws will take affect.
The latest ESPLOST, which can raise no more than $32.5 million, begins next April to help pay down the bonds while also buying school buses, textbooks and other building projects.
"Now the work begins for the school board and administration to make the best of this opportunity that the people of Bryan County have given us," Warren said.