School bond referendum to be on ballot

SUWANEE - Taxpayers will be asked early next year to vote on a referendum that, if approved, would allow the Gwinnett County Public Schools to continue constructing classrooms to relieve overcrowding in the state's largest school district.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education on Thursday agreed to allow Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks to move forward with the general obligation bond process. The bond, which would fund the second phase of "The Plan," would not raise taxes, Wilbanks said.

The bond would be for about $700 million, although that amount could be higher or lower, Wilbanks said. The money would go toward the construction of new schools, additions and land purchases.

During the board meeting, Wilbanks said the district has "a limited opportunity to do this without increasing taxes." If voters approved the bond, the debt service millage rate would be kept at its current amount, which is 1.3 mills.

Board member Daniel Seckinger said this process is not unexpected. Although "The Plan" will be largely funded by a voter-approved 1-percent sales tax, the second phase of the timeline calls for an alternative funding source.

The referendum should be included on the Feb. 5 ballot during the Georgia presidential preference primary election.

Also during the meeting, Wilbanks noted that the district's 2002 building program is nearly complete. Although the sales tax collected in that program was about 30 percent less than what the district anticipated, Wilbanks said the school system was able to build more than 200 classrooms beyond what they had promised to construct.

Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost presented an audit of the special purpose local option sales tax. The audit found that the district's facilities development and construction program meets - and often exceeds - the sales tax objectives.