Last Tuesday, the BOC met for their regular meeting and voted down the referendum, which would have allow the BOE to essentially take out a loan of up to $5 million and pay it back with SPLOST funds that are currently coming in, as allowed by the ballot referendum approved by voters in March of 2011.
Haralson County Commission Chairman Allen Poole and Haralson County Commissioners Vance Posey and Eric Robinson were the dissenting votes, while Commissioners Jamie Bennett and Sammy Robinson were the assenting votes.
At the time, the commissioners who were not in favor of the referendum were concerned about the possibility of a tax increase, which would go into affect if SPLOST revenue did not cover the bonds. However, Haralson County Board of Education member Bill Johnston assured the BOC and residents that the projections for the SPLOST collections had been very conservative.
This SPLOST collection began in January of this year and will continue through 2017. In the first four months of the collection, more than $1 million has already been collected. 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 0 percent economic growth.
“Even at a negative growth rate of 19 percent,” he said, “we will still bring in $5.88 million, which is more than enough to cover the bond.”
Also at issue was the fact that, according to BOE attorney Cory Kirby of Harben, Hartley and Hawkins, LLP of Gainsville, Ga., the BOC doesn’t truly have a choice.
“It is the commission’s ministerial duty to levy the taxes that the BOE approves [because the BOE cannot levy a tax],” Kirby said during last week’s meeting. “The BOE is the recommending authority, and [the BOC is] the levying authority.”
Visiting attorney Brad McFall, the county attorney for Polk County, was present during Tuesday’s meeting on behalf of the BOC and standing in for Haralson County attorney Ming Lim. McFall confirmed Kirby’s statements, saying it is the ministerial duty of the county to levy taxes on behalf of the BOE.
“Many times, I have board’s ask me this question: do we have to approve their millage rate? The answer is: the millage the BOE recommends is not discretionary. You (the county) must impose their recommendation,” McFall said. “And this is basically the same issue. They are making a recommendation, and the law requires your approval. The BOC felt that approving the bonds was a vote to approve a tax increase. That’s simply not the case.”
If the BOC does not approve the BOEs recommendations, the BOE does have the option of suing the county.
Commission Chairman Poole said that it was the board’s job to uphold the law and avoid lawsuits that would cost taxpayers more money.
“If we go into a law suit, we all loose,” Poole said. “Because the case would go to superior court, and we would have to pay court costs and for all these attorneys. So, at the end of the day, we would all loose. [...] I would be remise if I didn’t advise you all to follow the letter of the law.”
Poole said the current school board was dealing with the fallout of decisions made by previous boards, and some of the bond would be used to pay off old debt from a bond the BOE took out in 2006.
BOE Chairman Richard Davis elaborated on this, saying the remaining funds owed on the 2006 bond, amounting to nearly $2 million, are due by October of this year.
“I wasn’t on the board at the time, but [in 2006] they borrowed $12 million, expecting to get more than $14 million. However, the economy took a bad turn, and they didn’t get it. So, we are trying to be responsible with your money and retire their old debt and get some new projects done as well.”
Davis said that in addition to paying off old debt, the bonds would pay for the new carpet for the activity rooms in Buchanan Elementary and West Haralson Elementary as well as bus awnings, which amounted to more than $123,000. That would leave $3 million for the board to use to get started on other projects that Davis said are very much needed at the school system.
Those projects include repaving the tennis courts, the entrance and the track of Haralson County High School; electrical upgrades at the middle school; correcting ventilation issues in the BES and WHES gyms; remodeling bathrooms that are in ill repair at WHES; installing better security systems in all the schools; and installing a centralized control center for the heating and air for all facilities.
“If the commissioners approve these bonds, we will get the bonds, evaluate the needs and do the most important ones first,” Davis said.
Commissioner Bennett asked the board to give consideration to local vendors when awarding bids for these projects. Davis said they would use local vendors whenever possible.
Commissioner Eric Robinson asked if the resolution could be broken up into two parts: one to approve the bonds and one to approve the county’s guarantee of the bonds in the event that the SPLOST did not cover them so that the county would not have to approve a BOE tax hike in that event.
McFall said that the state statute says they must pass jointly because the county is guaranteeing the bonds on behalf of the BOE.
The commissioners passed the referendum 3-2. Commissioners Bennett, Poole and Sammy Robinson voted in favor of the referendum. Commissioners Posey and Eric Robinson voted against the measure. Immediately after, both boards adjourned.