Local News

September 4, 2013

Spending on turf field questioned as Dalton school board talks tax

Members ‘leaning’ against increase this year, unsure about next

(Continued)

A year without sales tax; taking from the school budget

City school board members, along with members of the Whitfield County school board, voted in 2011 to delay the continuation of the education sales tax from 2012 to this year to be “sensitive to the constraints of the local taxpayer,” a school audit reported.

Had they not done so, ESPLOST revenue could have possibly paid for the new field and track — and then some. The sales tax typically brings in $5 million to $6 million annually for city schools — or about $400,000 to $500,000 monthly — according to a school report. Three months of the sales tax would have given board members another option besides dipping into the budget.

Perry said the cost for the field and track is being paid out of the system’s $59.68 million school budget. That budget also pays for teacher salaries, day-to-day operations and school programs, among other things. Most of the funding for that budget comes from state funding and local property tax revenue.

Not everyone has embraced the new field because of the use of taxpayer money, Orr said.

“I know the track and field is a hot button issue for some in our community,” he said, “especially when taxpayer money was used. I wish we had had an anonymous donor step forward to fund that project, as a couple of our neighbor systems did (close to $1 million was donated for a new field at Southeast Whitfield High School in the county). But we did not.”

The poor economy, high unemployment and Dalton Mayor David Pennington’s anti-tax stance were among the reasons board members chose to opt out of the sales tax for a year, Orr said.

Asked if city residents would have preferred a 1 percent sales tax to fund the new track and field instead of taking money for it out of an already tight budget, Orr said he couldn’t answer that.

“It’s a done deal now,” he said. “I have no regrets ... We didn’t think (the sales tax) would (pass) at that time. There was lots of opposition (in 2011). In 2012, there was not.”

Crutchfield said Orr’s views are “pretty consistent” with his.

“We’re going to continue to invest in our kids,” Crutchfield said of the new field. “The kids over there now would say it’s a good decision. And we’re very proud of it.”

Orr said there’s never an ideal situation “when the timing is just right to make such a large investment,” but  “the track was in an unsafe condition and had to be replaced.”

“It had been patched several times over the last several years,” he said.

Now the complex is “quite the showpiece” and will benefit the entire community, offering a place to practice football, soccer, band and track and also host Dalton Middle School sports, Orr said.

The money taken from the budget won’t be replaced by ESPLOST dollars. State law prohibits school officials from transferring sales tax revenue into their budget, even if it’s to retroactively pay for a project that would have fit within the parameters of the ballot measure approved by voters.

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