Supporters voice favor for tax increase

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2007

Parents, teachers and public school supporters urged the Butler County Commission to vote for an additional half-cent sales tax that would allow the Board of Education to bond millions of dollars for construction at schools in Georgiana, McKenzie and Greenville.

Supporters brandished &#8220Help Our Schools” and &#8220Vote Yes” signs during Tuesday night's public forum as the five-seat county commission heard nothing but public support for the Board's ambitious $25 million building project. Those plans include a new $14 million facility in Georgiana that would consolidate the enrollment at both Georgiana High School and R.L. Austin Elementary.

&#8220We have the body at Georgiana High School, but we don't have the life,” said Georgiana Principal Joseph Dean. &#8220We don't have adequate facilities. I just want us to be fair.”

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Greenville businessman E.R. &#8220Gene” Hudson agreed that Georgiana and McKenzie deserved its share of funding. Hudson said he helped promote the one-cent sales tax increase in Greenville that allowed for the construction of a new high school in the Camellia City.

&#8220I'm concerned about the lower end of the county,” he said. &#8220I know some of the ills of the schools in that part of the county and I can pay taxes in Butler County for our children.”

A building-needs survey conducted by the Board of Education in November 2006 recommended the retirement of R.L. Austin and Georgiana as usable facilities. Georgiana High School is one of the oldest buildings in the county and repairs to the facility would only guarantee and additional 15 years of life, according to the survey.

All county schools would see significant repairs and improvements, ranging from $500,0000 to $4 million. Construction costs for other schools in the district are estimated as the following:

N W.O. Parmer: $1.65 million to $3 million.

N McKenzie School: $2.25 million to $4 million.

N Greenville Elementary: $1.15 million to $2.7 million.

N Greenville Middle School: $1.4 million to $2 million.

N Greenville High School: $500,000.

The City of Georgiana is expected to increase sales tax to help fund the projects. The McKenzie City Council voted to raise sales tax by one cent in February, but the future of the project rests with the county commission. Superintendent Mike Looney said an additional half-cent of sales tax inside the county would generate approximately $950,000 more revenue for the school system annually. That funding is necessary in order for the Board to bond the $25 million.

No one spoke out against the tax raise during the forum.

&#8220Take my blood, take anything you want,” W.O. Parmer Elementary School parent Robert Mello told commissioners, &#8220if it just ensures my child an opportunity to be armed for the future, you can have it.”

County commissioners gave no indication on how they would vote at their scheduled meeting on March 12, although Commissioner Jerry Hartin has voiced his support of raising sales tax in the past for the schools. During Tuesday's forum, Commissioner Daniel Robinson held up an architect's concept design of what a new school in Georgiana may look like and said he would like to see the names Georgiana High School and R.L. Austin Elementary both inscribed on the building, indicating he may vote for the tax.

&#8220What we've heard tonight is an overwhelming response for the sales tax increase,” said Commission Chairman Jesse McWilliams.

However, McWilliams encouraged anyone with concerns to contact the commission.