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Sales tax referendum set for next week
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Dawson County voters will get a say this and next week over whether or not they want a 1-cent educational sales tax to continue.

The Dawson Count Board of Education voted unanimously during its November meetings to put its fifth, education special local option sales tax (ESPLOST) before Dawson County voters on March 17.

Currently, 96 voters have cast their ballots during the early voting session, which runs until the end of the week.

Voters approved a five-year extension of the 1-cent sales tax in November 2009, which passed with 77.7 percent of the vote and was projected to generate about $30 million over five years.

"That money is very restrictive on how it can be spent," said Dawson County School Superintendent Damon Gibbs. "We cannot pay salaries, pay benefits or maintain our facilities with that."

The ESPLOST would allow the school system to use the funds for building works, including repair and renovations, acquiring land for school projects, equipment such as tablets and computers for students, fleet maintenance and, new to ESPLOST V, acquire books, digital resources and other media for students.

"The current ESPLOST is set to run through March 2016," Gibbs said in an address at a Dawson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon in January. "The E-SPLOST runs until the projected end or until you hit the amount in the referendum, which was $30 million. We are expecting to hit that number in the fall of 2015."

The board took the first step to putting the ESPLOST referendum on the ballots for March 17 by taking a vote during its Nov. 4 meeting.

Also, should the referendum pass, the board plans to immediately bond out $15 million of the projected $36.5 million for a performing arts center on the Dawson County High School campus.

"Our major project for this ESPLOST is a 1,000 seat auditorium performing arts center. It will house art, drama, chorus and band," Gibbs said. "We have been planning this for some time and we have an initial design and concepts."

Currently, the high school has a stage inside of the main building where the drama department performs. The chorus and band rooms are also connected to practice areas with the art gallery located in a small room adjacent to the practice rooms.

"This building will house four programs. It is planned to go where the tennis courts currently are, adjacent to the gymnasium," Gibbs said. "The stage will sit in the back of the auditorium with hallways and rooms connecting dressing rooms in the back and stage entrance. It's going to be a beautiful facility."