Ed-SPLOST passage won’t raise sales tax
by JoEllen Smith
Columnist
February 22, 2013 12:43 AM | 3051 views | 37 37 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On March 19 there will be a vote for the Education-only SPLOST. There are many misconceptions about this complicated issue. For starters, passage will not cause our sales tax to rise; it will remain exactly the same. This vote is only for the continuation of Ed-SPLOST.

Some have taken issue with the concession stand rebuilds. At a recent meeting hosted by “FACE It Cobb,” (a parent group concerned about school funding issues), this was addressed. A number of bathrooms/concession stands are currently inaccessible to disabled individuals. In our incredibly litigious society, this should be changed now before a lawsuit costs the taxpayers more money.

The Cobb Taxpayers Association has complained about the implementation of a “Career Academy.” Lately our society has become insistent that every high-school graduate attend a four-year university. This has created a depressingly large number of unemployed college graduates. Meanwhile many companies go begging for skilled labor and welders make $50 an hour. Think about your objection to skilled trades being taught in our schools, the next time you pay an electrician.

Our state legislators will tell you that they are increasing funds for education. That is not entirely accurate. Schools are getting more money due to increased enrollment. State funding “per student” has actually decreased. In addition, federal funds for education are decreasing also, but not the unfunded mandates. Homeowners make up the difference with our property taxes.

The other argument is why gyms are being built rather than teachers being hired? By state law a SPLOST can’t be used for salaries, or even transportation or textbook costs. It would be great to see that money go to decrease class sizes, but it’s not allowed.

To those who say projects were added to fill the total expected tax revenue, I have to say that I used to think the same thing. Until I found out that only 20 percent of suggested projects were accepted. It would be wonderful to have a “split-penny” SPLOST as many critics want. But until one actually exists, roofs are still leaking and HVAC units still need to be replaced.

I often hear the refrain that the “Special” in SPLOST is not special any more since we renew it every four years. One-third of our schools are over 45 years old. If the buildings didn’t age, I gather we wouldn’t need money to keep repairing and replacing them. And in the last 10 years, 700 trailers have been eliminated through SPLOST.

Should the school system cut costs before asking for a SPLOST? Cobb is the second largest school system in the state, but has one of the lowest administration costs of any system. I’m sure we can find waste, but if SPLOST doesn’t pass, these capital projects would have to be paid out of the general budget, which already is at an $80 million deficit. With 90 percent of that budget being personnel, there is nowhere else to find money without letting hundreds of teachers go, along with those administrators. So if you vote for SPLOST you actually are saving teachers’ jobs.

Cobb is also one of the largest school systems that is debt free. If SPLOST doesn’t pass, bonds will have to be issued or reserves used. Property taxes will rise. The SPLOST, however, is a sales tax. Rather than constantly relying on property owners alone to foot the bill for education, the continuation of this penny consumption tax will hit non-residents who work, shop and travel through Cobb; renters; and seniors over 62 who don’t pay any education property tax at all. The burden is spread more widely and fairly. As a property owner I’m for it.

Are there some projects I personally don’t like? Sure, just like everyone. But I feel we should stop trying to get a list that 100 percent of the citizens approve (never likely) and vote on one that is reasonable and badly needed.

JoEllen Smith is an education activist in East Cobb and a volunteer for “EmpowerED Cobb.”
Comments
(37)
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est cobb mom
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March 03, 2013
Great article JoEllen! Well maintained schools benefit all who live in our area. Good schools help our property value. Also, I totally agree about having choices for our high school students. Trade schools should be funded.
top cat
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February 27, 2013
If SPLOST does not pass our sales tax will fall.

Let me also give you a quote by a county chairman:

"You can build these capital projects with SPLOST dollars, but you have to maintain and operate them of general funds."

And that means a tax increase.

Vote NO.
@ top cat
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February 28, 2013
Flawed logic... It's reasonably safe to say that the new Clarkdale, Mableton and Eastside elementary schools are less costly to maintain and operate than the old facilities they replaced.

Getting kids out of trailers and into permanent classrooms is a good thing and was supported during past SPLOST initiatives by voters. SPLOST made it possible to remove more than 600 trailers that needed to be maintained/operated. It's likely less costly to maintain and operate new space than to maintain/operate trailers.
Simple Math
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February 27, 2013
It is true, if we vote for this SPLOST, the sales tax will not rise...

However, if we are smart enough to vote NO, then our sales tax will go down by 17%!

I know some of you dolts think I just said a 17 cent decrease, but I did not. A 1 cent decrease equates to a 17% sales tax cut.

Vote yourself a tax cut, you have earned it.

@ Simple Math
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February 28, 2013
Yes... your sales tax may fall by 1% at the register (i.e. a 17% decrease).

Arguably, your property values could fall much further than any realized sales tax savings if schools are not supported.
Simple Math
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March 01, 2013
You are right, "could". I get to use the word "will". I'll take will over could.

I live in the city of Marietta and I believe the Marietta School Board is several tiers above the Cobb version in skill and fiscal responsibility. Of course they have fewer properties to care for, but they have significantly less population to serve which means a smaller tax base.

ImaSeniorTaxpayer
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March 02, 2013
Yes. Trade a 1 cent sales tax reduction for an increased property tax. This is a net loss to homeowners who are not seniors. You must be a senior citizen homeowner. But in the end, seniors lose too. Since most people move to Cobb for the high quality of the education system, deterioration of this quality will lower the value of our homes over time. And that is the start of a downward spiral that will be difficult to stop. Try selling a house in an area where the education system is just average.
East Cobber
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February 25, 2013
I suggest to all of the old bittys out there to vote NO on the SPLOST. Then I would encourage the school board to drop the seniors school tax exemption on their property taxes. Then see how many of those old bittys jump to support SPLOST.

One on the problems with our society today is that the importance of educating our young people has become a back burner issue. People seem to find it more important to fund social security and medicare. Well I hate to break it to you...there would be no social security or medicare for you if the young people are not educated to become productive citizens and continue to fund your ponzi scheme. I remind you that social security and medicare were yours and your parents generation's creations....not the young peoples.
@ East Cobber
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February 25, 2013
Brush up on the civics lesson...

Thankfully, the school board has NO say at all concerning the senior tax exemption.

Talk to your local state representatives and senators. They are the only one that can lead a change on the senior exemption. Don't be surprised when to hear that they are unwilling to make a change since it's a difficult sell to say;

"Hey vote for me Mr./Mrs. Senior - I pledge to do all I can to see that your property tax increases by doing away with the Senior exemption."
anonymous
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February 24, 2013
Who is she? This woman is such a shill. I was on the fence about this SPLOST, but this made my decision. I am against anything JoEllen favors. Thanks, JoEllen. Vote NO!
ConcernedSenior
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March 02, 2013
Wow! What a concept! Forget the facts and base your vote on whether you like (or not) someone who has taken a position. You're a genius.
anonymous
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March 05, 2013
To Concerned Senior- I've been watching these shenanigans for years, and have read many of JoEllen's columns during that time. JoEllen has made herself the quintessential gadfly. She buddies up to whomever she thinks she can get something out of in the future. In turn, they happily use her to spread their lies about taxes and other things. She's done it with John Abraham, former State Senator Chip Rogers, and now Scott Sweeney. She sells her soul to them for nothing and they happily take the deal.

It isn't emotional at all. JoEllen has established herself as being one who has never met a tax she didn't like.

And that's a fact, Jack!
NO E-SPLOST MAN
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February 23, 2013
To the Spare Me post, is the writer aware that the combination of the Marietta and the CCSD E-SPLOST is both going to voting on, and that together, amounts to $773 million?
Opposition Solution?
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February 22, 2013
SPLOST opponents solution is to do nothing.

Don't support schools.

Increase the budget deficit, which will adversely affect teachers and classroom sizes.

They want a perfect project list yet know it will never be perfect so it's better wait and do nothing.

Don't provide career pathway options the state is now requiring. Don't ever think about addressing facility needs for this.

Don't address ADA issues so you can expose the district to accessibility law suits.

Don't anticipate needs.

Don't replace inefficient and costly to maintain older facilities.

Don't replace aged buses.

Don't upgrade technology.

Don't install safety upgrades at schools.

Do stick your head in the sand and pretend it will all work out on its own without any funding (bonds or SPLOST). Better yet - SPLOST opponents suggest it can all be funded out of the current budget.

Wonderful math wizards - only in their mind can you fund capital needs from the general budget when the district is staring at an $80 million deficit.
This is nuts
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February 22, 2013
No one is talking about how against the Walton community was against this SPLOST until they threatened to hold the TAX hostage with it's vote because it wasn't getting what it wanted. In swoops Sweeney-the-weenie to save the day by making the district insert the goodies for Walton and, voila, built-in vote to get it passed.

Dangle to right carrot; screws the rest of the county.
Jackie Barnes
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February 22, 2013
If you think splost is not a tax increase You are another Koolaid drinker, we are in a Depression not a recession, I went to the grocery store yesterday and 2 bags of groceries was 98.00 Gas is now 3.68 a gallon and you want to raise taxes You are NUTTS!!!!

Watcher...
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February 22, 2013
JB, I like your spirit!
Hello?
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February 22, 2013
Uh, Jackie, I can see from your punctuation and run-on sentences that you aren't a supporter of schooling in general, but I've got some bad news for you. Our schools are going to be paid for one way or another.
No Tax
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February 22, 2013
An E-SPLOST is for EDUCATIONAL purposes. How many classes have been taught on football fields with astro-turf? How many classes will be taught in concession stands? The ADA standards are not new. Building ramps to classrooms relates to an educational purpose. Building a concession stand does not. The director of SPLOST, Glen Brown, recently renovated his office. The teachers are not getting raises yet the central offices redocorates with the money from the general operating budget which should be used for our teachers and students. We can't afford to maintain the buildings we have so why build a shiny new Career Academy with no plans for transporation or staffing? At one high school, there is space for 120 sudents in auto-shop but only 40 are enrolled. Before the budget cuts, kids from other local high schools would take a bus for the auto shop classes at the other school. We just paid $29 mio of SPLOST money for new buses. Put them to use and transport students between high schools were the career pathways are undercpacity instead of building a new builiding. Why a new building? It is easier to line the pockets of members of the Chamber of Commerce and their construction friends with large construction projects. There is 19% of "contingency, fees and inflation" at the top of each major construction project. Seems like a way to be able to inflate the estimates and then dump SPLOST money in the general operating budget. Just say no. Get the project list right. Get the price estimates right. Capital Projects for Education. Period. Read your constitution.
East Cobb Voter
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February 22, 2013
JoEllen Smith's bias is obvious, but it looks like she doesn't even have her facts right. In the 8th paragraph of her column she says the scholl system is already running an $80 million deficit, while in the next paragraph she says the Cobb school system is debt free.

We are being asked to vote for a pig in a poke. We are being asked to sign a blank sheck. The list of planned expenditures is embarrassingly vague. Vote to spend $30 million on an ill-defined so-called "career academy" ? Aren't our present schools providing the educational base that points students toward career planning ? Start with a good basic education, and then if the student does not go to university, that's why Georgia has invested in vo-tech post secondary schools and techical colleges, like Chattahoochee Tech.

Send a message. Vote "NO" on this SPLOST and make the tax-and-spend crowd start to live within their budget. How did we ever manage to operate public schools before the SPLOST binge ? If you give the tax-and-spend crowd more money, their spending addiction will just grow.
AmericanMale
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February 22, 2013
@East Cobb Voter:

Her fact is correct, the district has about an $80 million deficit. That's how much money the district expects to come up short to pay the bills next year (teacher salaries, utilities, etc.). Deficits lead to layoffs. Since teacher salaries make up the vast majority of expenses, that means mostly teachers would be laid off. (making class sizes even bigger!)

The district also has no debt. This means no massive loans have been taken out for operations or building new buildings. This is typically done through the school district issuing bonds. Past bond debt was paid off by earlier SPLOSTS.

YOU benefit from that personally when you get your property tax bill each year: there no longer is an additional tax on you to pay off those bonds!!!! BTW, whenever bonds are used, the district has to use tax money to pay interest on those bonds. AND, nobody else bears the burden of those costs except property owners in Cobb.
Please get informed
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February 22, 2013
East Cobb Voter – you really need to get informed. What do operating deficits have to do with debt? Also, what is a blank scheck?

For the record, (and I don't know how many times I will have to keep writing this), the way you funded school capital needs before the "SPLOST binge", as you put it, was with general obligation bonds. That resulted in an additional bond millage and a nice surcharge on your property tax bill. There was a bond millage on your tax bill for decades before the first SPLOST was passed. Thanks to SPLOST, all that debt was paid off in 2007 and the district is now debt-free. If you want to start paying a bond millage again, then go ahead and vote no. I can guarantee you that you will be charged a heck of a lot more in bond millage than you would ever spend in 1 percent sales tax in a year. As I said, you really need to get informed because the misinformation you are spreading is just wrong.

No E-SPLOST Man
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February 22, 2013
Wow. JoEllen has really bought into the CCSD hype, hook, line and sinker. For starters, she is dis-ingenuous when she claims the E-SPLOST won't raise taxes. What she fails to tell you is that it is a continuation of a never-ending sales tax INCREASE that has been in place since 1998, and if allowed to continue in this go-round, will result in an additional tax burden of $773 million over the next five years. That's almost a Billion dollars, but who's counting when it is "for the kids." In reality, it is a mis-allocation of scarce resources, and a callous disregard for those us who pay for a tax which is rife with boondoggle spending. Vote NO and tell the school board to give us something which addresses needs not wants.
Spare me
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February 22, 2013
Your comment is ridiculous. First of all, the tax is estimated to raise $718 million over five years, not $773 million. Get your facts straight. If you are going to try to make an argument, you should stick to facts and not sensational language like "boondoggle spending". What boondoggle spending? How about some examples, please. And please tell us what specific projects in the list constitute wants and not needs. Otherwise, you are just spewing nonsense.

The FACT is, SPLOST has replaced the bond millage on your property tax bill. Another FACT about SPLOST is that it is paid for by a large percentage of people who don't even live in Cobb County. Therefore, it is a FACT that SPLOST is actually a tax decrease, not an increase. If you are property owner under 62, it is a FACT that you will pay less in school taxes with SPLOST than you would under the only other option, a general obligation bond. And if you are over 62, then you should be ashamed for not wanting to at least support the future of our community which is our schools!
anonymous
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February 22, 2013
I have friends in the district that have shared some of the spending issues, especially in technology, that appear to be a bit excessive. I think as long as everything is truely transparent they spend their money as they wish, but I for one will not vote for it.
Watcher...
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February 22, 2013
Please consider the thought the many Cobb Citizens are tired of the never ending 1 % Splost tax.
Choice is simple
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February 22, 2013
So we should stop funding our schools? Are you sure that's the position you want to take?

I think there is a common misperception that SPLOST was supposed to be just a one-time deal. That's not the case. It is a (relatively) new way to pay for things that have always had to be funded. You used to pay for them through the bond millage on your property tax bill. Now, with SPLOST, there is a much better way to pay for these things. There is no additional millage on your property tax bill. The needs of our school buildings aren't going to go away. You can either pay for them with SPLOST, or with property tax. Your choice, but you can't just stop funding our schools. That's not an option.
Who is voting?
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February 22, 2013
Cobb County property owners over 62 who are claiming the exemption from school taxes, should NOT be allowed to vote.
Watcher...
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February 22, 2013
By your logic, perhaps CCSD Employees, their Friends and relatives should not vote on this ESPLOST.
AmericanMale
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February 22, 2013
I continue to be amazed by the visceral anti-SPLOST sentiments posted here. A common thread (in addition to emotional rants) is a lack of specificity.

Anonymous claims "pork projects". Okay. We're all against projects that aren't really needed, so could you please point one out so that it can be addressed?

"Budgetwatcher" claims that excess funds were used to balance the budget "during the last three years". But I believe SPLOSTS I & II are the only ones that have been completed, so excess funds could only have been used twice, not three. It's also what the law requires: returning the unused funds to the taxpayers of Cobb. What would "Budgetwatcher" have the board do, break the law?

Discussion here is great. Valid disagreements in discussions can help people come to their own conclusion about Ed-SPLOST. But posters should do their best to be specific, with truthful facts, before taking a hard stance either way!
budgetwatcher
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February 22, 2013
How much "excess SPLOST" funds were used to balance the budget during the last three years? Enough to build a new school or two or renovate many more. Why should I vote for renewing the tax if they seem to be planning on using it for the rainy day fund instead of really looking at increasing efficiency and reviewing operations?
anonymous
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February 22, 2013
Excess SPLOST funds cannot legally be used for that purpose.

They can only be used to reduce millage if there is no debt.

The district did what it was legally obligated to do. They could not "create" projects to be funded by excess proceeds.
Choice is simple
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February 22, 2013
You should vote for it because it's a no-brainer. Do you really want your property taxes increased? That's what will happen if it doesn't pass. As for your specific complaint, the school system didn't plan to use SPLOST for the rainy day fund, and that's not how it was used. Georgia law requires that any excess SPLOST funds be used in either of two ways: 1) to reduce public debt, or 2) as a refund to taxpayers. The school district has no public debt (thanks to SPLOST), so it used excess funds from the SPLOST II program to keep the property tax millage at its current level. Sounds like a good deal to me. There won't be any excess funds from SPLOST III. The school district has 114 school buildings, and these buildings have constant needs that have to be paid for one way or another. The choice is pretty simple. Either pay for them with a debt-free one-cent sales tax (that is largely supported by non-residents of Cobb County), or vote SPLOST down and watch as the school board issues a massive general obligation bond that has to be paid back with interest and adds a whopping surcharge to your property tax bill.
No Tax
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February 22, 2013
To "Vote Yes" - Read the audit reports. The external auditors questioned how $40 mio in painting charges can be a capital expense. Let the board agree to a forensic audit, not a procedural audit and then see what has been buried. The CFO and the director of SPLOST both resigned and now projects are 100% over budget. Someone had something to hide. Agree to a forensice audit, remove non-capital and non-educational projects, remove Scott Sweeney for abusing his office and move the referendum date to November then I will support SPLOSTIV.
anonymous
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February 22, 2013
Vote NO on the pork projects. Vote NO on Ed SPLOST.

Until this district stops packing their administrative, planning and advisory committees with former bigwigs who are only in it for their personal gain or to get their friends contracts, citizens should stop voting for this massive tax. Fiduciary responsibility is out the window with this crew, they use the money to manipulate us, east vs. west vs. south Cobb and school vs. school, rewarding those principals who suck up on every other topic and punishing others. If anyone with knowledge speaks up, he or she is GONE. Cobb says they're against pork, but that's all this is.
Vote YES
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February 22, 2013
In all of the previous and current SPLOSTs there has not been a single case of improper use of funds AND there are multiple audit reports to prove it.

Do your research before you form an opinion.

Be an informed voter.
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