Monroe County Board of Education is preparing to ask voters for another five years of the 1-cent ESPLOST tax even though the current ESPLOST doesn’t end until April of 2024. Assistant superintendent Jackson Daniel updated board members on the current ESPLOST and told them when the request for another five years can go before voters.
Revenue from the ESPLOST can only be used for the list of projects given to voters before they approve the tax. The current tax will stop at 60 months (five years) or when $24 million is collected, whichever comes first. Daniel said that it looks like $24 million will be collected by November 2023, which would end it five months before the calendar date.
The current ESPLOST was approved by voters in 2017 and collections for it began in 2019. As of Aug. 31 (month 28 out of the 60 months), Monroe County had collected $12.3 million, averaging $439,559/month, from the 1-cent tax.
A referendum for a new ESPLOST, which will begin collection whenever the current one ends, can be put before voters as part of a regular or special election. Daniel recommended the board plan to put the referendum on the November 2022 ballot, when the election for governor and other state officials will be held.
The board must approve a list of projects for the ESPLOST before bringing it to the voters. Some of the projects that have been discussed for the next ESPLOST are a new freshman/9th grade building and a College & Career Academy at the Mary Persons campus; field house and improvements to Dan Pitts Stadium; maintenance of roofs, HVAC equipment, parking lots, etc. at existing facilities; an all-purpose building/indoor practice site.
Daniel said some of the eligible projects that are always needed are buses and technology. Other projects may be parking lots and safety-related expenses. ESPLOST cannot be used for salaries or other personnel expenses.
Board member Dr. Jeremy Goodwin asked how much of the current $24 million ESPLOST is committed. Daniel said about half of it is set aside for bond payments, which are made every six months.
Giving the August financial report, Monroe County Schools finance director Chris Johnson said the school system is where it should be at this point in the school year in its $46 million budget. Contracts with employees for the new school year will take effect next month. He said Monroe County Schools received more state revenue in August than usual. Final payments are being made to Parrish Construction Company for the additions and expansion at Monroe County Middle School.
Johnson said the school system needs a tax anticipation note (TAN) to meet its financial obligations until local tax revenue starts coming in. This is necessary because local property taxes aren’t due until December. Daniel said he was told earlier that day that the state approved the Monroe County tax digest and that tax bills would be sent by the end of September.
The school system is required to repay the TAN by Dec. 31. In 2020 it repaid a TAN for $5.5 million earlier than required and saved on interest payments. Johnson said he asked several banks for quotes on the interest for a $6 million TAN. The only response he received was from United Bank, which offered 1.293 percent interest. That rate is less than the rate Monroe County Schools paid last year, and Johnson recommended the board accept the quote from United Bank, which it did, 6-0, with board member Stuart Pippin, who is an employee of United Bank, abstaining.