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Wednesday, 21 November 2007 00:00

Macon looks for alternative funding for school projects

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By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Voters in Macon County rejected a $42.1 million bond that would have provided new funding to build new schools, leaving county officials no choice but to seek out alternative funding.

County commissioners were banking on citizens to vote “yes” to the proposed land transfer tax on Nov. 6 that would pay for the school construction projects. But the county’s pipedream was shattered when voters said “no” both to a 0.4 percent tax levee on all real estate transactions and the bond referendum.

The school bond was a close call registering 3,369 votes for and 3,529 votes against. The land transfer tax went down 1,681 votes yes to 5,178 votes no.

The transfer tax was slated to generate revenue to that would fund school construction projects. The tax was estimated to generate $2.5 million a year for Macon County.

However, the lack of funding does not eliminate the need for school facilities.

On Monday (Nov. 26) county commissioners and board of education members will brainstorm to create a priority list of school projects.

County commissioners already adopted a resolution for a $2 million loan that will complete proposed renovations to East Franklin School. Two new classrooms will be constructed from the loan.

Design plans also call for the construction of three kindergarten classrooms and a new gym; but county officials will have to find additional funding to pay for this portion of the project.

Renovations to the East Franklin School are scheduled to begin over Christmas break, Macon County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman said.

Commissioners also decided to take out a loan in order to pay for 29-acres of land along Clarks Chapel Road that will be the site for a new 5-6 school.

The land bears a $2.6 million price tag, $200,000 of which the county has already paid.

The county’s yearly payment for this piece of land has not yet been determined, Macon County Finance Director Evelyn Southard said. The county most likely will be making annual payments on this property for the next 10 years.

Entering into a loan agreement for this tract of land during this fiscal year is a wise decision, as the county can only borrow up to $10 million a year, explained commissioner Ronnie Beale.

“We have to use our debt wisely,” he said.

And seeing that the 5-6 school project comes to fruition is county’s leaders number one priority.

“There’s got to be some relief at Macon Middle School,” Beale said.

Another motivational factor to begin making progress on the school projects is the high cost of building material.

Even though county leaders are looking at each school project one at a time, Brigman said that building both schools and the renovations to East Franklin is crucial.

“We definitely need all three components to occur to rid all the portable classrooms,” Brigman said.

 

Financing options

Since voters turned down the land transfer tax, the possibility of raising residents’ property taxes may become an option in order to finance the school projects.

“It’s a good chance that will happen,” Southard said.

Currently Macon County residents pay a property tax of 24 and half cents. For example, a resident’s whose home that has a property value of $200,000 pays an annual property tax is $490, Southard explained.

But residents do not need to fear a huge increase in their property taxes. The maximum amount commissioners can raise property taxes is one and a half cents.

“You are getting a deal in Macon County,” Southard said.

If the county would raise each resident’s tax by one cent, it would generate nearly $900,000. The earliest taxpayers could see an increase in their taxes would be in July of next year.

Southard sees the need for the commissioners and board of education to sit down and talk about how to prioritize the projects.

“Right now we need to figure out what will work for our taxpayers as well as our children,” she said. “There is still a lot of conversation that needs to be had.”

 

Other options

Raising property taxes may be a quick fix to generating money to build the new schools but some feel that the idea needs to be closely examined.

Art DeWitt, member of Macon County Citizens Against the Transfer Tax, said that county officials should study the issue carefully.

“I think that they county ought to look within,” DeWitt said in reference to the county’s fund balance. He suggested that the county uses some of its reserves to fund a portion of these projects.

Macon County has a fund balance of $15.4 million, said Southard. She said that the county is unable to spend more than its 25 percent of its reserve, Southard said in reference to the county’s policy. If they decided to use this money, commissioners would have to change the policy, with which she disagree.

“That would not be a wise decision to make,” she said.

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