The Dawson County Board of Education unanimously approved an ESPLOST VI referendum to be on the November ballot during last night’s meeting.
The Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) is a 1 percent sales tax that is utilized by Dawson County Schools to fund capital projects including constructing new facilities, renovating current ones and replacing the fleet of buses. Around 85 percent of ESPLOST revenue is produced by those who live outside of Dawson County who come to spend their dollars here.
The current tax, ESPLOST V, was established when citizens voted in favor of it in 2015. It is currently set to run until December 2020, or until a maximum $36.5 million is collected. Funds have been used for the Performing Arts Center, JROTC facility, the College and Career Academy, 15 school buses, a new roof at Robinson Elementary School and districtwide technology infrastructure and student iPads.
According to Financial Director Jamie Ulrich, Dawson County Schools is more than $3 million ahead of projections for the current ESPLOST, meaning the maximum collection will be reached well before December 2020.
Superintendent Damon Gibbs said at the July 9 meeting that based on the current projections, the maximum collection could be reached in late spring or early summer of 2020.
The board approved the ESPLOST VI referendum to be on the Nov. 5 ballot in Dawson County with a maximum collection of $48 million.
The purposes of ESPLOST 2020 will be for adding, renovating, repairing and equipping school buildings and facilities; acquiring land and/or improving land for school system facilities; constructing and equipping new educational space; acquiring school buses, vehicles, transportation and maintenance equipment; purchasing books, digital resources and other media; and purchasing technology equipment, tablets and laptops as well as safety and security equipment.
A project list and breakdown of where ESPLOST VI funds will be allotted, if approved by voters, was presented at the meeting.
The biggest allotment of funds is $17.5 million set aside for facility upgrades and construction which includes an agriculture facility, multi-purpose facility and a technology facility. Other funds over the next five years include: $12 million towards a future elementary school on Hwy. 183, $12 million for technology upgrades, $2 million for transportation upgrades including the purchase of new buses, $3 million for land acquisition and $1,280,000 for electronic media resources and band equipment.
When ESPLOST was passed by the Georgia legislature in 1996, it came with strict requirements as to what it can fund. The salaries and benefits of school employees, which make up 87 percent of this year’s budget, cannot be funded with ESPLOST.
“We get asked on a pretty regular basis ‘why don’t we lower the millage rate using our ESPLOST funds?’ so I’m going to take just a second to remind everyone that we can’t use ESPLOST funds to pay salaries and benefits,” Gibbs said. “If we could, we would, and we’d love to have some flexibility… we’ve been advocating for that since I got here five years ago.”