Our children, our community, and our economy will benefit from updating our school facilities.
Everyone in Aiken County shares the vision of our schools providing a quality education that prepares our children to become good citizens, to become self-reliant and to be prepared for employment in the 21st century economy. This is what our parents’ generation provided us, and we understand that it is right for us to do the same for the generations that follow us.
In November, we will be given the opportunity to take an important step in meeting that obligation by voting for the 1 percent sales tax proposal to fund critically needed improvements to our school facilities. Many of our facilities are old and functionally obsolete.
There are those who comment that buildings do not educate students. While that is undeniably true, it is also true that school facilities are an important element in the delivery of a quality education. We know that buildings have long, useful lives. However, eventually every building must be replaced even while we take care to maintain and upgrade it along the way.
This is especially true today, when technological infrastructure must be in place to allow students to master the digital tools that are omnipresent in the world of today and tomorrow.
The outdated condition of our schools is very apparent to outsiders who are considering moving into our county. Our realtors have been telling us that they are losing sales as young families opt for homes in Lexington County or Columbia County in Georgia. These communities have done a better job of keeping their school facilities updated. Now, the recently released Chamber of Commerce Benchmarking Study has documented that this is happening to a much greater extent than we imagined.
What do these prospective new residents see when they look at our schools? They see that most of our school buildings are 40-60 years old, with many functional problems due to their age. One of our schools is about 90 years old. They see a proliferation of portable classrooms. They perceive the condition of our schools as an indication of the value we place on educating our children.
We all should be concerned about the economic impact of a significant number of families with school-aged children turning away from Aiken.
We lose out on the social vitality that these productive, well compensated, tax-paying new people would bring to our communities. It depresses real estate values and retail sales. It impacts jobs. It reduces tax revenues.
We have the potential for the quality of our educational experience and facilities to be something that draws young families to Aiken. Aiken’s schools could be another reason families, who are relocating into the area for jobs, choose Aiken as their home.
None of us like to see any increase in taxes, whether it be on property, income or sales. As a small government conservative, this is not something that I would normally recommend. However, not every tax expenditure is a waste of the hard working taxpayers wages.
In Aiken, we are fortunate to bear a relatively low local taxation burden compared to nearby counties. Although we rank 13th in per capita income among counties in South Carolina, our millage rate is among the lowest, well below the average in the state and area. Even so, the 1 percent tax proposal has a provision for one tenth of the revenues collected to be used to provide tax relief for property owners.
We can afford this necessary expense, especially as nonresidents are projected to pay 30 percent of the revenues collected.
The time is now to face up to our responsibility to invest in new updated school facilities in Aiken County. Please make sure you come out to support our schools, our children and our community with your vote in support of the 1 percent sales tax proposal. It is simply the right thing to do.
Stephen Wilson was the 2013 chair of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce.
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