On Tuesday, Aiken County Board of Education members will give final approval to a pair of ballot questions for the November general elections – asking voters to approve a one-sales tax increase for new facility construction.
One question seeks the addition of a penny sales tax over 10 years – raising about $125 million over 10 years, as well as revenue designated for property tax relief. The other question will ask the public to give the School District the authority to issue general obligation bonds in conjunction with the voters' agreement to the sales tax hike.
The Board members met on Tuesday to go over the wording of the questions to be placed on the ballot – which must be turned in to the Aiken County Elections Office by Aug. 15. The sales tax question will cite the facility projects selected for some or all of the additions, renovations and improvements.
Those projects include Aiken High School, North Augusta High School, Ridge Spring-Monetta elementary and high school, the Aiken County Career Center and Leavelle McCampbell Middle School.
The sales tax question will take up a full page, listing the details of how the funds will be used. The bond referendum question would give the District the authority to issue bonds through sales tax revenue, not property taxes.
At Tuesday's Board meeting, Ray Fleming said that perhaps one in 10 voters will actually read the ballot questions. Who would prepare an election handout so voters might more easily understand the ballot, he asked.
Such a handout can't be used in a polling place, said School Board Attorney Bill Burkhalter. Such a handout is permissible and familiar for a constitutional issue on the ballot, but not in other ballot elections.
“The Board's responsibility is to produce information to give to those who are trying to get the message out,” Burkhalter said.
Board members have discussed for months their intent to provide only factual information about the sales tax election. Legally, they cannot use any District funds or campaign-type literature for such ballot questions for the voters.
In mid-July, Board member Keith Liner joined other Board members and administrators in presenting information about the sales tax option to members of the Aiken County Tea Party Association. On Tuesday, District Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt said that presentation soon will be placed on the School District's website – http://acps.schoolfusion.us.
“We'll have external communication ... to reach all the communities,” she said. “There will be a list of people willing to present to a club or church.”
That's where the burden will be, Board member Tad Barber said – those members of the public who support the sales tax referendum to get the word out and also do research for voters who asked questions.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter.