The Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, the Aiken Board of Realtors and the Economic Development Partnership gathered on Wednesday as a unified voice to officially endorse the one-cent sales tax referendum for the Aiken County Public School District.


The announcement came during the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce's annual State of Our Community program.


The grassroots movement, now coined “1 Cent Makes Sense,” has grown to collectively urge Aiken County residents to vote “yes” on the one-cent sales tax referendum in the November general election.


To advocates, this tax increase would address the needs of some of Aiken County's older school facilities.


“Three-fourths of our schools are more than 40 years old, half of our schools are more than 50 years old, and there are, sadly, schools in this county that are more than 65 years old,” Dr. Deidre Martin, chair of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, said. “And to me, if you really think about it, it's shocking that an educated and caring community like Aiken has not made more of an investment in public education.”


If voters overwhelmingly vote “yes” on the Nov. 4 ballot, a possible $125 million in tax revenue would fund the replacement of several original school buildings, including Aiken High School and North Augusta High School, over a 10-year period.


The funds also would help other schools throughout Aiken County.


Ten percent of that funding would be used to reduce the School District's debt service budget related to facilities, and upkeep of the aging facilities.


“I believe with all my heart that there comes a time when you have to step up and do what is right,” Martin said. “And I believe that investing in the next generation is absolutely what is right. Our local schools need our support.”


This tax would not only impact the schools, but in turn, draw more homeowners to Aiken County, according to Julie Whitesell with the Aiken Board of Realtors and Meybohm Realtors.


“According to the National Association of Realtors, a home in a good school district can sell for as much as 10 percent more than a similar home in a lesser school district; we want our home values to go up,” Whitesell said. “A 2013 Realtor.com back-to-school survey said that 60 percent of homeowners consider school districts in their home-buying decision, and in that same survey, 53 percent of buyers said they would overspend on their budget to be in a home with a school district that's a good one. We want those buyers.”


Whitesell said, from personal experience, she's had buyers purchase homes in Augusta or Lexington just so those parents can send their children to quality schools, even if it means driving to and from Aiken for work.


“We think that education and economic partnership go hand-in-hand,” Whitesell said. “We've got to have these young families in our community for it to thrive. So the one-cent sales tax, to us, is an investment in the future Aiken.”


As a parent of students in fourth and ninth grade, Will Williams, president and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership in Aiken, said an issue he sees today is a lack of current technology in school facilities.


“As these companies that have chosen Aiken County in the past, and as those that will choose this community in the future, they are making a significant investment with their facilities and with the training they are doing with employees,” Williams said. “In turn, they are also looking at our community to see what we are doing to invest in ourselves, so this is a worthy investment.”


David Jameson, CEO and president of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, agreed.


“If the business community doesn't speak up, others will speak for us,” Jameson said.


To promote awareness of the one-cent sales tax, the groups developed a website called “1 Cent Makes Sense.”


By Friday, the group plans to have a live website – www.1centmakessense.com – detailing the referendum.


Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.