By REBECCA HAZEN
The Dade County Board of Education called a discussion only meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7, to discuss the continuation of the one percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) and whether the selling of bonds would be included in the referendum.
The current SPLOST period will end in June 2022.
Board members heard from Cory Kirby, the Board’s Attorney, from Harben, Hartley and Hawkins, LLP, in Gainesville.
Kirby explained that the board would need to put it up for a vote even though it is over a year away.
“The reason for that is, if we do try to renew, and something unusual happens and it wouldn’t pass, you would have to wait for another year in order to reattempt to pass the SPLOST. We are looking at March to renew,” Kirby explained.
Kirby continued, “Under Georgia law, school districts have the ability to seek authority from its citizenry, to, in essence, borrow money. It would either be a public offering or a private sale. A private sale would be to an individual bank. We repay them over a period of time. This would be similar to a car note or a mortgage. A public offering would be sold on the bond market, similar to the stock exchange. You would get an investor and they would buy portions of the bonds. Then we would pay that back as well.”
“It just means that you have the authority, so that if you decide in the five year period that one of the projects, instead of pay as you go, you would like to do up front, you can go ahead and issue the bonds. You could use SPLOST funds to repay the debt if you decide to issue bonds,” Kirby said.
According to Kirby, the last bonds that he issued were in November, and the interest rate was under one percent but that number is constantly changing.
Kirby noted that the board would have to have an idea of the projects that they will want to spend money on in the SPLOST and bond time frame, as well as an estimated monetary amount.
“And then, if you decide to do so, we would need to seek the authority to issue bonds. If you seek the authority, that does not mean that you actually have to issue them,” Kirby said.
The bonds would have to be issued in the five–year period, but the projects do not have to be finished in that time frame.
Kirby suggested that Interim Superintendent Josh Ingle explain to the voters about SPLOST, the renewal of SPLOST and the potential of issuing bonds and whether or not they expect to draw down on those bonds.
“Selling the bonds will only affect the person that is buying the bond. This will not affect the taxpayer. But we have to ask permission to sell these bonds,” board member Daniel Case said.
Case continued, “Because of the uncertainty in the economy at times, we’ve got to have the bonds. If we have them, we can grow.”
Board Chair Carolyn Bradford noted that the Board has only sold bonds in the first year of SPLOST, which was 30 years ago.
“The reason we did that was because this was an avenue to fix things and bring some buildings up to date, that there wasn’t money to do otherwise,” Bradford said.
After the discussion meeting, a brief 5 p.m. meeting was held where the board voted yes for the continuation of the one percent sales and use tax for education with the option of issuing bonds.
“We are currently in SPLOST V right now. SPLOST has been very advantageous for our school system, particularly for the students. We have been able to use the one percent sales tax to provide opportunities for our students to be exposed to other types of curriculum. It has allowed us to keep our facilities in fine shape, and get state-of-the-art technology,” Ingle said.