Proposed $68M E-SPLOST on ballot

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 23, 2016

By Matthew Strother

LaGRANGE — Other than local candidates, there will be one issue on every Troup County resident’s ballot on Tuesday: the educational special-purpose, local-option sales tax referendum.

Here’s a rundown of the measure:

The E-SPLOST vote will determine whether the collection of the 1 percent sales tax continues. There has been an E-SPLOST in place since 1997, accounting for 1 percent of the 7 percent total sales tax in Troup County. It is separate from the county’s SPLOST that has been used to fund projects like roads and the Sweetland Amphitheatre. E-SPLOST is only for school system use.

Officials said about 30 percent of the sales taxes are paid by people from out of the county, which means funding comes from residents of outside counties in addition to Troup. Since it is a sales tax, it does not impact property taxes.

E-SPLOST funds are restricted to certain uses — building construction and repairs; and purchasing items like technology, safety equipment, buses and land. It cannot be used for other purposes, like paying employee salaries or utility bills.

The E-SPLOST currently collected has funded, among other projects, the $16 million Ethel Kight Elementary School that opened last year. During a Board of Education meeting Thursday, officials also touted E-SPLOST as essential to the system’s ability to effect repairs like damage to the Troup High School Fine Arts Auditorium and a “sinkhole” at LaGrange High School from heavy rains and flooding in December.

“Without the (E-SPLOST) funds, I can’t imagine what it might look like,” said John Radcliffe, assistant superintendent of maintenance and operations. “… It would be difficult to do repairs as quickly as we have without SPLOST dollars.”

The funds also have been used to replace roofs and floors at various schools, upgrade heating and air-conditioning systems and make general repairs to schools systemwide. The funds also help pay for buses and installation of heat and air-conditioning systems for the buses, Radcliffe has said.

Funding for HVAC replacements and renovations, roofing replacements and renovations, and flooring replacements and renovations are planned in the upcoming E-SPLOST at $5.5 million, $3.5 million and $1.5 million respectively.

In expansions, one of the projects planned if the E-SPLOST is approved is to create a new, larger school to replace the aging Whitesville Road Elementary School.

School system officials cite the aim of building a school in an area more central to that school’s district to save transportation costs, as well as energy savings from more efficient equipment and building materials. The new Ethel Kight school’s utility cost is less than Hillcrest Elementary School, despite being twice as large, Radcliffe has said.

Troup and LaGrange high schools also are slated for new multipurpose athletic facilities — similar to one Callaway High School received using current E-SPLOST funds.

Renovations are planned at Rosemont Elementary School to add more space for cars waiting for student drop-off and pick-up, expand the cafeteria, add classrooms and improve the gym and playground, among other projects. Classrooms also are planned to be added to Hogansville and Hollis Hand elementary schools. General repair and climate control upgrades are also slated for schools throughout the system.

Other renovations and expansions are planned at Hogansville and Hollis Hand elementary, and Callaway, LaGrange and Troup high schools, along with the THINC College and Career Academy. Those, along with the new school to replace Whitesville Road Elementary and the new athletic facilities, are budgeted in the upcoming E-SPLOST for a total $46.5 million with associated $1 million in expected land purchases for expansions.

New security measures are also planned systemwide at a cost of about $2.4 million from the E-SPLOST funds, including replacement, additions and upgrades of cameras at all schools, as well as making school entrances accessible only by entering the front office through a secured door, which a staff member has to remotely unlock — and may remotely lock down all doors — with a button.

Technology upgrades and additions — which is set to include systemwide classroom computer, software and printer upgrades; and bolstering of the school system’s servers and Internet capacity — are set to encompass about $3.5 million.

Other expenses laid out in the E-SPLOST plan include $2.5 million for equipment — which includes school furniture and copiers — and software upgrades; $1 million in paving improvements, and $1.25 million as shared funding with the Troup County Parks and Recreation Department to pay for upkeep of the Chris Joseph and Granger Park tracks and turf at Callaway Stadium.

The school system anticipates collecting up to $68 million in the five-year E-SPLOST. The current E-SPLOST collections, set to end June 30, 2017, were capped at $59 million, but are expected to come in at about $54 million.

The system may bond some of the projects, if necessary, which would create an additional $2.7 million in debt service, bringing the total cost of all proposed projects up to $71.35 million. If used, the difference would be funded from school system reserves, which is currently about $20 million.

Matthew Strother is the editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311.