SPLOST silver lining in darkening budget cloud

JONESBORO — Though federal, state and local revenue sources are drying up, Clayton County Public Schools’ collections from the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax have increased so far this year.

Chief Financial Officer Ken Thompson reported SPLOST IV revenues at $4.6 million in January, above the $4 million monthly average and $300,000 more than January 2012.

This month’s financial report indicates revenues have gone up over the year. Schools collected more than $11 million in the final quarter of 2012, compared to nearly $10 million during the final three months of 2011, a $1.2 million jump in revenues.

The increase has been well received by chief operations officer Cephus Jackson, but the positives are limited. SPLOST revenues are dedicated to facilities, maintenance, transportation and technology and not to personnel.

The five-year penny sales tax is projected to collect $280 million through its Dec. 31, 2014, expiration.

Riverdale Elementary School is the latest major SPLOST-funded project.

Jackson said the district was unable to collect enough revenues over the life of the previous SPLOST, but officials combined $8 million left from SPLOST III with SPLOST IV monies to complete the $14 million school, which opened this year.

Jackson said the district also has a new transportation facility in Riverdale thanks to SPLOST. There are plans to add security upgrades at every school.

“We were forward thinking in Clayton County,” he said.

The picture is less clear and less positive elsewhere in school funding.

The overall budget is $550 million, which accounts for SPLOST revenues and federal, state and local funding.

Thompson said the district is likely to take a hit from the latter three sources that fund school programs and salaries and benefits.

“We do know that the revenues will continue to decline,” said Thompson.

He pointed to a declining local tax digest in Clayton County and House Bill 399.

The bill was scheduled for consideration by the full State House Thursday. The proposal would prohibit local governments from collecting ad valorem taxes from businesses leasing space at airports run by another government.

Thompson said the district stands to lose as much as $9 million a year if taxes cannot be collected from concessionaires at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, most of which sits in Clayton County.

He said schools will also be affected by the federal sequester to the tune of about $855,000 in annual cuts over 10 years.

Finance officials will meet over the next few weeks discussing ways to fill those potential gaps. He said cuts will be made but where they will be made has yet to be determined.