Potential for 'school' penny tax still facing long odds

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- Aiken County School Board members are drawing up the plans for a possible penny sales tax. On Tuesday night, board members voted unanimously to schedule a meeting with local state representatives and senators to get the ball rolling.

Many of the district's schools were built in the 1950's or earlier. Some are overcrowded. Others require thousands of dollars in maintenance and patchwork each year.

"We're competing with Richmond County and Columbia County for jobs and for personnel. They've already got a one-cent tax, and they've got a building program that's been going on for something like 15 years," says board member Tad Barber.

Currently, Barber says the district has only about $17 million each year for new construction projects and maintenance. After the failure of a $236 million bond referendum 2010, Barber says a one-cent sales tax is a more attractive alternative.

Barber speculates that the penny tax could improve or replace most schools in the district in only about 15 years.

However, board members are left with one big obstacle before they can allow voters to choose whether or not they want the tax.

By state law, a county can have only one penny tax. Aiken County Council already has one. Board members hope local lawmakers will help push for a change when a new legislative session begins in January.

Board members have adopted a timeline going forward. Most indicated that they would like to give voters the choice on a November 2014 ballot.

However, if the effort fails, Barber says the district would be at wit's end.

Ultimately, Barber says poor school facilities drive off possible homeowners and business leaders.

"Whether it's an elementary school, a middle school, or a high school, they're going in and looking at the facilities and finding that they can go to other communities and have better facilities," he tells News 12.

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