published Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Whitfield County voters approve sales tax for schools

Whitfield County voters narrowly approved an education special purpose local option sales tax Tuesday.

The 1 cent sales tax is projected to generate about $105 million over the next five years. Schools can use the sales tax revenue for capital expenses such as new construction and technology purchases

Whitfield County and Dalton City school systems will share the money based on enrollment. As the larger school district, Whitfield will get about two-thirds of the revenue.

Fifty-four percent of voters approved the tax; 46 percent voted against the tax increase, which will go into effect Jan. 1.

"We knew it was going to be tight. We knew this was a sensitive subject with times the way they are," Whitfield County school board Chairman Louis Fordham said. "At this point we're definitely appreciative of the votes to allow us to use the ESPLOST as a tool for our schools."

Whitfield County Schools officials saw the tax as crucial to filling the budget hole created by $28 million in funding cuts and increased costs for the 2012-13 school year. Whitfield Schools lost more than $10 million through the state's recurring austerity reductions and is expected to lose an estimated $2.2 million more with the county raising its freeport exemption to 100 percent.

Whitfield's education tax expired last year, leaving it as one of only four Georgia counties without the special tax.

Jim Hawkins, Dalton City Schools superintendent, said the school district can now move forward with a couple of important projects.

"On behalf of the board of education, our staff and all of our students, we want to thank the community for their support of education and for keeping the needs of our students as a top priority" he said in a statement late Tuesday.

In County Commission races, incumbent commission Chairman Mike Babb held onto his seat with 53 percent of the vote. Challenger Ronald Ownby garnered 47 percent of votes for the at-large seat.

Incumbent Greg Jones lost his District 4 County Commission seat to challenger Lynn Laughter with a 43 to 57 percent split.

All vote totals, which include federally mandated provisional ballots, are unofficial until certified by the Georgia secretary of state.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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