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City, county boards compare strategies on tax referendum

Jennifer Sprouse • Jun 20, 2012 at 10:20 PM

The Washington County and Johnson City boards of education met at Columbus Powell Center Wednesday night to discuss promotion strategies and problems concerning the quarter-cent sales tax increase referendum that is scheduled to be voted on in the Aug. 3 election.

Washington County Director of School Ronald Dykes and Johnson City board Chairwoman Kathy Hall gave power point presentations detailing their promotion initiatives and goals they plan to show to the public, community groups and civic organizations.

Some of Dykes’ presentation included background information on what the school systems have been doing, accountability, why there is a need for further resources, explained the funding issues and the desperate need for an increase in funding, as well as the rational behind the referendum.

If approved, taxpayers would pay an additional 25 cents for every $100 they spend. He said the increase would generate $4 million, which would the equivalent of 16 cents in the property tax rate.

Dykes said he feels the approach of presenting power points to county leaders, organizations and clubs is an effective use of promotion for this referendum.

“It seems to be effective,” he said. “There are individual questions often asked, but there’s a positive air in the community.”

Hall’s power point for Johnson City Schools focused more on the tax increase, but stressed city school officials have sought out support and continue to touch base with other organizations within the community.

She explained that the Greeneville, Greene County, Carter County and Elizabethton school systems have been functioning with a 2.75 percent sales tax rate in the local option sales tax. The local option sales tax for Johnson City and Washington County is 2.5 percent.

Hall said the need for increased funding comes from an increase in costs from other state mandates.

“We went through a major educational reform in Tennessee, which is a good thing, but it also came with a lot of unfunded mandates which raises our expenses,” Hall said.

Both boards, as well as education association members, offered suggestions on how they could better reach their target audiences.

Some of the suggestions included using social media to reach teachers and parents, soliciting the help of their PTAs and PTOs to rally in favor of the referendum, as well as seek out those who would be affected should this not pass in the August election.

“I think to garner the support of the citizenry, you’re going to have to show that need, without question, in the long range,” Dykes said. “We have to show that connection and try to teach that concept one more time, that there’s a direct relation between economic development, lower tax base and more jobs if we have a stronger education system.”

Other strategies included writing letters to the editor of area newspapers and seeking a positive push from local media.

Both boards decided to stick with their separate ideas and strategies on promoting the referendum, but will have another joint meeting on July 17 at 5:30 p.m. in the Columbus Powell Center to discuss progress and other initiatives.

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