Three weeks before a referendum on a proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, the yard signs and campaign ads are just starting to appear.
“It’s About the Kids” and “This is not a permanent tax” are two slogans printed on flyers and signs. And at the head of the campaign is Muscogee County School District Superintendent Susan Andrews.
“Dr. Andrews will be the face of the campaign,” said Frank Myers, political adviser to the effort, called The New Day campaign. Myers said he contacted the state ethics commission and was advised that as long as Andrews was not using school district resources, she could express her personal opinion about the proposed tax.
“She has been overwhelmingly accepted and appreciated,” he said. “When I met her, I realized what all the fuss was about.”
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The Muscogee County School Board formally voted to ask for another SPLOST in May, but Myers said there was a concern that an earlier start to campaigning would give time for opponents to the tax to organize.
And, he said, there were practical concerns.
“Campaigns, if they are run right, are expensive,” Myers said.
He said Andrews has decided to just give facts about the proposed 1 percent tax, rather than openly promote it. “I’m going to try and answer as many questions as I can, so when people go to vote, they are voting and they are informed on what they are voting on,” Andrews said.
Lack of communication was an issue cited by civic and community leaders during the school district’s last SPLOST campaign in 2003, though the tax passed.
The district held nine public forums on the SPLOST before the board approved asking for a referendum in May, and Andrews will spend the next three weeks talking at PTA meetings, churches and community organizations about the proposed tax.
“I don’t want anyone to say, ‘You didn’t tell me you were going to put air conditioning in the gyms,” she said. “I don’t think anyone can say that unless they are living in a box.”
Andrews said she wants voters to know the facts before they go into the ballot box, rather than voting on emotions.
“Don’t vote in this election because you are angry about something,” Andrews said. “Look at what we’re going to do with the money.”
If approved by voters on Sept. 15, the 1 percent sales tax would last five years or until the Muscogee County School District collects $223 million to complete a variety of capital projects.
Projects include the classroom additions, five new schools — a new Carver High, a new middle school, two new elementary schools and a fine arts academy — and athletics and technology upgrades across the district.
There hasn’t been any organized opposition to the SPLOST yet, but some people are speaking out against the tax.
Jim Evans headed up organized opposition to the 1997 and 2003 SPLOST. He said he will not organize a formal group to oppose the school district’s latest proposed tax, but he is against it.
“This is the wrong time and the wrong place,” Evans said, mentioning the struggling economy and lack of trust in the school district.
He said the school district’s administration building on Macon Road could have been built for less money and some of the elementary schools with fewer students could be consolidated.
“They are not being good stewards of the money,” he said.
Evans said there are a lot of people who are opposed to the tax, but he did not know of any organized opposition and declined to give names of others he knew that would be casting a nay vote. But he hoped someone opposed to the tax would show up to the public forum that Common Cause Columbus is holding on the tax on Sept. 3.
“There needs to be another person on that roster,” he said.
ContactSara Pauffat 706-320-4469