The sale of the bonds would allow the BOE to begin Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax projects outlined in the March 15, 2011, SPLOST referendum ballot, which was approved by a majority of Haralson County voters. The bond would provide the BOE with a lump sum to finance the projects, which would then be paid back as SPLOST funds come in over the next five years.
However, the Commission voted down the resolution, which was meant to be a mere “legal formality,” according to attorney Cory Kirby of Harben, Hartley and Hawkins, LLP, who represents the Haralson County BOE.
“It is the commission’s ministerial duty to levy the taxes that the BOE approves [because the BOE cannot levy a tax],” Kirby said. “The BOE is the recommending authority, and you are the levying authority. So when the BOE recommends a millage rate, you all levy it on their behalf. All we’re asking for here is for the authority to issue bonds.”
The bond would provide the school system with no more than $5 million, as outlined in the ballot referendum. The payment on this bond would be paid back as funds come in from the SPLOST collections, which have already begun. This SPLOST collection began in January of this year and will continue through 2017. In fact, in only the first four months of the collection, more than $1 million has already been collected and set aside for these projects. Over the life of the SPLOST, the BOE’s underwriting firm, Raymond James/Morgan Keegan, estimates that $18,327,020 will be collected, based on zero percent economic growth. Of that amount, Haralson County Schools will receive $11,729,293, and Bremen City Schools will receive $6,597,727.
“Morgan Keegan was very conservative with their estimates,” Kirby said. “Even if the county economy sees negative growth of negative 5 percent, it would still generate $9 million.”
However, in the “very unlikely” event that SPLOST revenue did not support the payments on the bonds, the BOE would have to raise taxes to cover the difference, according to a representative from Morgan Keegan. This was the issue that dissenting commissioners Vance Posey, Eric Robinson and Chairman Allen Poole had with the referendum.
“I will not vote for anything that will lead to a tax increase,” Posey said.
Commissioner Jamie Bennett had a different view of the situation.
“This is not a tax increase, [as the taxes are being levied through the SPLOST]. I think this is a good thing. It means economic development,” Bennett said. “All they are wanting to do is to get their money up front to start some projects. That may even mean work for some of you in the audience. It would take a catastrophic event for the BOE to need to raise taxes to cover these costs. [...] No one on this board wants to raise taxes.”
Posey was concerned that even though the board raising taxes, in the event it was necessary, would be the BOE, residents may construe it as a County Commission approval of such an action – despite the fact that the county had previously approved bonds for the BOE in 2006 and 2007 for the same purpose.
“If we approve this resolution, and down the line they come up with a tax increase, it will look like this board approved it,” he said.
Kirby, who was on-hand at the meeting to answer questions replied: “You would simply be doing what the law requires you to do.”
Commissioner Eric Robinson asked Kirby what would happen if the county did not approve the BOE’s bond resolution.
“Then the BOE could file action in superior court,” Kirby replied.
When the vote was taken, the action failed 3-2, with Poole, Posey and Robinson dissenting, and Bennett and Commissioner Sammy Robinson in favor.
After the vote, Eric Robinson stated, “Let’s go to court.”
According to Kirby, that is one of several options the BOE has at its disposal in response to the vote.
“The BOE is exploring their options,” Kirby said. “This includes filing an injunction in superior court, or implementing a bond millage increase.”
Kirby says a bond millage, which has never before been implemented in Haralson County, would levy taxes solely against property owners rather than everyone who makes purchases in the county and would be entirely separate from the current millage rate.
In other action, the board approved:
• an ordinance prohibiting the use, sale or delivery of synthetic marijuana and other “certain dangerous substances,” including saliva divinorum, marketed as “K-2,” “SPICE” and other names, as well as “ingestion devices,” such as pipes, roach clips, etc.;
• Certificates of Eligibility for Board of Assessors Members;
• Appointment of Commissioner Bennett to Vice Chairman of the Board of Commissioners;
• Acknowledgement of the AM Vet 55’s application for a beer and wine license. County Clerk Alison Palmer said the owner had submitted all the required paperwork, an announcement will run in the newspaper for four weeks, and will be followed by a vote by the board during their July 10 meeting on whether or not to award the license;
• Tammy Liner’s appointment to the Library Board;
• To certify Animal Control officers so they may act in situations without involving local police officers to aid them.
The board discussed and tabled:
• Poole’s proposed budget of $12,273,000, which is a 1 percent increase from last years budget of $12,190,000;
• Designating July Drug Awareness Prevention Month;
• Designating additional emergency shelters in the county.