Aiken Chamber endorses school bond referendum

Leaders recognize schools will help build future

The Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors voted unanimously to endorse a “yes” vote on a $90 million public bond referendum proposed for Aiken County Public Schools that will be on the ballot May 1.

Joshua Stewart, Aiken Chamber board chair, J.E. Stewart Engineering, reported that the recent meeting of the Chamber’s board of directors included a presentation from Aiken County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Sean Alford. “After the presentation and a thorough discussion of the subject, the Aiken Chamber will go on record in favor of a “yes” vote” said Stewart.  

The mission of Aiken Chamber is to be a lead advocate for the business community, creating an attractive environment where business will grow and thrive, and citizens achieve the highest quality of life.

“The Aiken County Public School District is addressing the needs of the next generation helping give our community a key competitive advantage in attracting business development and new residents,” Stewart said. “For Aiken students to excel, capacity issues, safety and efficiency must be addressed at all grade levels now rather than later.”

Funds from the bonds would finance the construction, renovation and expansion of six building projects. These projects include Millbrook Elementary School, Hammond Hill Elementary School, Belvedere Elementary School, a new elementary school between Graniteville and North Augusta, Midland Valley High School, and a new middle school between Graniteville and North Augusta.

In South Carolina, schools and districts do not receive state or federal funding for capital improvements such as cyclic maintenance, improvements, additions, renovations, repairs and building construction. These improvements must be funded at the local District/community level.

Funding options discussed for current facility needs included the use of 8% funds, a voter-approved renewal of the one-cent sales tax, and a possible bond through referendum.

Funding through 8% funds, while possible, would push facility construction start dates to 2024 as funding is dedicated over the next seven years to work in conjunction with voter-approved one-cent sales tax projects. Once the revenues are generated utilizing 8% funds, construction on the projects would then take more than eight years to complete (8% funds generate approximately $18 million per year; and approximately 40% is used for upkeep and repair to existing facilities and 60% for new construction). An estimated completion year for the six projects is 2032 or later.

Capital Improvements through one-cent sales tax funding would have also been possible, if voters supported a sales tax renewal. The current one-cent sales tax was voter approved in November of 2014, began on March 1, 2015 and will sunset on February 28, 2025. The tax does not automatically renew. Voters may have the option to renew the tax supporting new projects. Using a voter-approved renewal of the one-cent sales tax as the funding mechanism, the earliest possible date for construction to begin on these projects would be March 2025.

Due to the urgency of current facility expansion and new construction needs, the board elected to pursue a $90 million bond referendum. If the community votes in support of a $90 million bond through referendum, construction could begin for the six projects in 2019.

Chamber President/CEO J. David Jameson shared his perspective, “Let’s look at a student in first grade in 2018. The student will have graduated from college before the projects are complete using the 8 percent funding mechanism and that same student will be in 10th grade if voters renewed the one-cent sales tax for funding, but with the bond referendum the student will see projects actually starting next year and completed by the time he or she is in 5th grade - now that’s a win for Aiken.”

The bond, if supported, would increase property taxes by an estimated $20 per $100,000 home (for 4% tax base).

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