It’s Your Money: Florence School District One owes $71K for referendum

It’s Your Money: Florence School District One owes $71K for referendum

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Florence School District One owes $71,000 to the county for the referendum held in February.

Seventy-four percent of residents voted against the $198 million referendum that would have funded four new schools, three new athletic facilities and security improvements.

At the time, Compass Municipal Advisors estimated the referendum would have increased taxes between $67-$268, depending on the value of residents’ property.

The Voter Registration and Elections Commission of Florence County sent the breakdown of the expenses to district superintendent at the end of March.

WMBF obtained a copy of that bill that reveals a majority of the costs were for poll workers and machine technicians.

Printing ballots cost another $3,000, while supplies and absentee ballots cost $600.

Election Commission Director David Alford said the cost of the referendum was relative to the size of it. He said the referendum encompassed 40 out of 63 precincts.

The School Board Chairman Barry Townsend said the bill was higher than he anticipated, but it will not take away anything for this school year.

“I don’t want to say it’s not a lot of money because it is a lot of money but in a $154 million budget, it is a tiny amount,” Townsend said.

The district said the cost of the referendum will come from its general fund but did not say whether the cost was factored into this year’s budget.

Stephanie Rawlinson founded the organization, Students First, that campaigned in favor of the referendum.

She said the cost of the referendum is just something the district is legally required to do.

“There’s no other way to do it,” Rawlinson said, “You can’t just take a survey or a poll legally. The only way the state will allow school boards to be able to do that, to raise money, is through a referendum.”

Rawlinson said her campaign spent an additional $50,000-$70,000. She explained this money was donated by local citizens and Students First used this money to pay for media advertising, a website, signs and events.

“We had to pay rent on all the facilities where we had those forums. We couldn’t hold them at the schools because that’s school property, so we had to pay to actually rent those facilities, we had to pay security for those facilities, which was extremely expensive,” she explained.

Looking back on all the time, money and effort, Rawlinson said she doesn’t think it went to waste.

“I think it brought awareness to the needs in the schools because I think a lot of people thought things were fine in these schools,” she said.

Rawlinson said she thinks the school board should have spent more time educating the county about the referendum before sending it to a vote.

“I think there were a lot of questions that people in the community had about the referendum that could have been answered by the school board and by the school board members but they were prohibited by law from talking about it once they voted to send it for referendum and I think that was a huge mistake they made,” Rawlinson said.

For now, the district is figuring out how to move forward without the money.

“We’ve got schools out there, the air conditioners aren’t working in. We’ve got schools where the ceilings in the bathroom are falling in. We’ve got messes in a lot of these schools,” Rawlinson said. “I see those problems. I mean those problems are still there and they’re going to be there because the money is just not there to solve the problem.”

Townsend said the district has set aside plans to build new schools and plans to focus on maintaining existing buildings and upgrading technology in the upcoming year.

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