Lembeck said the list was meant to be a working draft for the Board of Education, which reviewed it on Friday. Board attorney Clem Doyle said if an education SPLOST IV referendum is placed before voters next March, the school board needed to have an approved list sometime in November or December.
The current SPLOST III expires on Dec. 31, 2013. Were voters to approve a SPLOST IV, which would again raise the sales tax by one percent, it would span from Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2018.
The tax is projected to collect about $50 million for Marietta over that period of time, said Danny Smith, the district’s director of maintenance and support.
Lembeck explained why a fourth SPLOST was needed.
“Why do this again? Well first of all we still have to pay down the remaining debt and quite honestly since 2003 even the state austerity cuts have impacted Marietta City Schools to about $30 million,” Lembeck said. “There is not money in the budget in order to fund the technology, the maintenance and the renovations required in our schools — basic roofing, paving and carpets. Student transportation is also something that is very difficult to fund. The state portion of funding that is very, very small. We have an aging bus fleet, so we’ll need to deal with that. Also in general, as you look at what is covered in this, there aren’t a lot of projects, a lot of different projects. The high level projects really are the debt retirement, the technology, and that’s instructional as well as infrastructure and administration, and then in general it’s just the maintenance and refurbishment of the existing facilities that we have.”
At the end of the SPLOST IV, the system, which is currently $22.5 million in debt, would be debt free, Smith said.
Of course, that was one of the selling points to get voters to pass the current SPLOST III. But then, no one expected the Great Recession to occur.
“The economy did not cooperate with anyone and had our collections come in as we anticipated we would have been there,” Lembeck said.
One of the larger construction projects in the proposal is $5.2 million to renovate Northcutt Stadium, including $630,000 for a synthetic turf football field.
Lembeck said the stadium, which was dedicated in 1940 with a Blue Devil 20-0 win over Fulton High, is in need of an overhaul.
“I think it’s important to the community, and we’ve heard it time and time again,” Lembeck said. “This stadium is in disrepair. It doesn’t even have a scoreboard that is functional. We hear all the time about the bathrooms, the visitor’s side, the concession stands, and on and on from those who attend the games in our community generation after generation who come together.”
The expense for artificial turf in the stadium raised the eyebrows of some board members. Smith said the surrounding county high schools have installed artificial turf in their stadiums and Marietta’s Athletic Director Paul Hall requested the same for Northcutt Stadium.
Board member Brett Bittner wasn’t so sure.
“It seems to be keeping up with the Joneses to me,” Bittner said.
Overall, board chairwoman Jill Mutimer said she thought the list, which she saw for the first time on Friday, was a reasonable starting point.
“I think there were some things on there that need to be tweaked,” Mutimer said. “There may be some things on there that need to be considered, but in general I think it was a good starting point, and I was pleased to see that the No. 1 priority is debt elimination, which we would have been able to do with this SPLOST if receipts had come in as they were projected originally, but they didn’t, and so if it passes I look forward to that as well as the capital items and renovations that need to be done.”
Lembeck said one point she wanted residents to know is that she takes a conservative, fiscally responsible approach to the system’s budget.
“Our budget was over $84 million in 2008 and we had 7,980 students,” Lembeck said. “Our budget for this year is $77.7 million and we already have over 8,400 students. It tells you that we really do try to manage our funds wisely and that we’re very aware of the economic situation and climate, and the SPLOST is a way for our community to have the schools and the services and the facilities that students need due to the help of the one percent sales tax.”