BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – Georgia House District 8 Representative Matt Gurtler won re-election over challenger Mickey Cummings and the county referendum for the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) passed in last night’s primary election.
Gurtler, the Republican incumbent, took 5,965 overall votes (60.18 percent) across the district, which is comprised of Union, Towns, and Rabun counties as well as a portion of White County. His challenger, Cummings, garnered 3,947 district-wide votes for 39.82 percent overall.
However, in Union County, Cummings’ home county, the race was much tighter as Gurtler won with 2,458 votes (54.32 percent) over Cummings’ 2,067 votes (45.68 percent) in Union.
No Democrat qualified in the election to face Gurtler in November; therefore, Gurtler will remain as Union County’s state representative for another term of two years.
Another hotly contested vote was the county referendum on the one-cent ESPLOST. While two groups within the county held strongly opposing viewpoints on the need of this sales tax, the vote itself was not close. The referendum passed handily 3,753 votes to 1,635 (69.65 percent to 30.35 percent). The new ESPLOST will go into effect on July 1, 2018, and will continue for five years or until $21 million in revenue is generated, whichever comes first.
Other local races featured three seats on the Board of Education. In District 2, Republican incumbent Tony Hunter overcame challenger Joan Anderson, taking 2,790 votes (68.07 percent) to Anderson’s 1,309 (31.93 percent). Hunter is unopposed in the November general election.
The District 4 race saw Republican incumbent Keith Potts defeat challengers John T. Strickland and William McQuillan. Potts took 2,599 votes (64.44 percent) to Strickland’s 808 (20.03 percent) and McQuillan’s 626 (15.52 percent). Potts is also unopposed in the November general election.
In District 5, incumbent Patrick White ran unopposed in the Republican primary and will also run unopposed in November as well. White took a total of 3,435 votes.
In other state-level races, runoff elections will be required to determine the Republican winners of the gubernatorial race, the race for lieutenant governor, and the race for secretary of state.
For governor, current Lt. Governor Casey Cagle will face current Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a runoff election July 24. Cagle took 39.01 percent of the statewide votes to Kemp’s 25.55 percent. The winner of this runoff will move on to face state Representative Stacey Abrams, who handily defeated fellow state Representative Stacey Evans in the Democratic primary. Abrams garnered 76.44 percent of the statewide Democratic votes to Evans’ 23.56 percent.
In the lieutenant governor’s election David Shafer will face Geoff Duncan in the July runoff for the Republican nomination. Shafer won 48.91 percent of the Republican votes statewide while Duncan received 26.65 percent. The winner of the runoff will face Democratic primary winner Sarah Riggs Amico in November.
The secretary of state’s race will also be decided in the July 24 runoff as Republicans Brad Raffensperger and David Belle Isle will meet for their’s party nod. Raffensperger took 34.98 percent of the Republican votes while Belle Isle took in 28.53 percent. The winner will face Democrat John Barrow in the fall general election.
Georgia state Senator Steve Gooch ran unopposed in the Republican primary and will be unopposed in the general election for Senate District 51. Gooch received 19,706 votes across the district.
On the federal level, U.S. House District 9 Representative Doug Collins ran unopposed in the Republican primary and received a total of 63,592 votes in the district – 3,775 of which were from Union County. Collins will continue to November when he will face Democrat Josh McCall in the general election. McCall defeated Dave Cooper in a tight race 6,936 votes (52.71 percent) to 6,224 (47.29 percent).
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – *These election results are unofficial until being certified by the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
2018 Union County Primary Election Results:
Board of Education District 2:
Joan Anderson (R) – 31.93% 1,309 votes
Tony Hunter (R) – 68.07% 2,790 votes Winner
Board of Education District 4:
William McQuillan (R) – 15.52% 626 votes
Keith Potts (R) – 64.44% 2,599 votes Winner
John T. Strickland (R) – 20.03% 808 votes
Board of Education District 5:
Patrick White (R) – 100.00% 3,435 votes Winner
Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST):
Yes: 69.65% 3,753 votes Winner
No: 30.35% 1,635 votes
Georgia House of Representative District 8
Matt Gurtler (R) – 60.18% 5,965 votes Winner
Results by County:
Union: 54.32% 2,458 votes
Towns: 66.41% 1,034 votes
Rabun: 62.75% 1,895 votes
White: 71.36% 578 votes
Mickey Cummings (R) – 39.82% 3,947 votes
Results by County:
Union: 45.68% 2,067 votes
Towns: 33.59% 523 votes
Rabun: 37.25% 1,125 votes
White: 28.64% 232 votes
2018 Georgia Primary Election Results
CANDIDATES FOR GOVERNOR:
Casey Cagle (R) – 39.01% 236,479 votes
Eddie Hayes (R) –
Hunter Hill (R) – 18.34% 111,199 votes
Brian Kemp (R) – 25.55% 154,894 votes
Clay Tippins (R) – 12.22% 74,047 votes
Marc Urbach (R) –
Michael Williams (R) – 4.87% 29,542 votes
Stacey Abrams (D) – 76.44% 422,509 votes
Stacey Evans (D) – 23.56% 130,241 votes
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR CANDIDATES:
Geoff Duncan (R) – 26.65% 145,849 votes
Rick Jeffares (R) – 24.44% 133,758 votes
David Shafer (R) – 48.91% 267,684 votes
Sarah Riggs Amico (D) – 55.28% 277,675 votes
Triana Arnold James (D) – 44.72% 224,638 votes
SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATES:
David Belle Isle (R) – 28.53% 150,973 votes
Buzz Brockway (R) – 15.35% 81,251 votes
Josh McKoon (R) – 21.14% 111,881 votes
Brad Raffensperger (R) – 34.98% 185,087 votes
John Barrow (D) – 51.52% 263,958 votes
Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D) – 29.51% 151,224 votes
R.J. Hadley (D) – 18.97% 97,194 votes
Smythe Duval (I) –
INSURANCE COMMISSIONER CANDIDATES:
Jim Beck (R) – 59.69% 313,184 votes
Jay Florence (R) – 20.89% 109,629 votes
Tracy Jordan (R) – 19.42% 101,876 votes
Janice Laws (D) – 62.84% 302,119 votes
Cindy Zeldin (D) – 37.16% 178,677 votes
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER CANDIDATES:
District 3 –
Chuck Eaton (R) – 100.00% 470,258 votes
Lindy Miller (D) – 65.46% 311,286 votes
John Noel (D) – 18.92% 89,955 votes
Johnny White (D) – 15.62% 74,263 votes
District 5 –
John Hitchins III (R) – 46.96% 247,460 votes
Tricia Pridemore (R) – 53.04% 279,510 votes
Dawn Randolph (D) – 78.59% 365,189 votes
Doug Stoner (D) – 21.41% 99,509 votes
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – With the May 22 primary election just weeks away in Union County, the debate over the one-cent Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) referendum is growing.
ESPLOST is a 1 percent countywide sales tax collected to help fund school improvements. Money generated from ESPLOST can be used for capital projects or to retire debt but cannot be used to pay operating expenses and salaries. A new five-year ESPLOST would take effect July 1, 2018, after the current ESPLOST expires June 30.
Two groups with two very different viewpoints on the issue have been busy recently in their attempts to persuade voters. Citizens Against Runaway Education Spending (CARES) opposes the ESPLOST referendum while Citizens for Excellence in Education (CEE) supports the referendum.
According to information provided by CARES, “There is no evidence that the ESPLOST has kept property taxes low, and there is evidence that property taxes and revenue have increased dramatically in the years since the tax has been in place.”
CARES cites that since the first ESPLOST in Union County was instituted in 1998, the school millage rate has continued to rise, from 8.5 in 1999 to the current rate of 11.78, which accounts for an increase of 38.6 percent. Regarding enrollment in Union County Schools, CARES states Union has seen a 5.3 percent increase while the nearby counties of Lumpkin, White, Gilmer and Towns have all seen double-digit percentage gains.
Comparing the 1998 school property tax revenue of $5,037,469 to the 2016 revenue of $16,050,563, Union County experienced an increase of 319 percent, according to CARES, which is a substantially higher increase than that of Lumpkin, White, Gilmer and Towns counties.
“This increase in revenue versus school enrollment is excessive when compared to our neighboring counties,” CARES states.
Supporting the new ESPLOST, CEE argues that the tax will bring in a projected $21 million over the next five years to fund a number of proposed school system upgrades and replacements, such as:
- Safety and security upgrades at schools;
- Roof replacements and repairs;
- System-wide kitchen equipment replacement;
- Technology innovation and upgrades;
- Cafeteria renovations and expansion;
- Transportation and maintenance equipment;
- Parking lot and road improvements;
- Athletic facilities renovation; and
- Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) building and shop renovations;
According to CEE, a number of projects have been completed without incurring debt using funds from past ESPLOST revenue, including construction of the Fine Arts Center at Union County High School and the Agriscience Center located on U.S. 129 south, safety and security enhancements throughout the school system, the purchase of cameras for all school buses, the purchase of 10 new school buses, classroom and HVAC upgrades at all schools, and technology upgrades throughout the system.
“The Union County Board of Education (BOE) is firmly committed to take on projects that can be fully funded during the five-year collection period,” CEE says. “The BOE did not sell bonds or incur any debt during the current ESPLOST. All projects are done on a ‘pay-as-we-go’ basis.”
However, CARES argues against the need for continued expansion, questions the transparency of educational spending and states that the county itself is not seeing a direct benefit of its investment in the school system.
CARES states, according to its sources, Union County is projected to see only a 4.69 percent increase in school-age (ages 5 to 19) population by 2050 while the 65 and older population is expected to increase by 29.09 percent.
Regarding transparency, CARES states, “The school board is in no way transparent about spending. Specific dollar amounts are very rarely mentioned in meetings. The financial reports are visible only to the board members, numbers are rarely mentioned, hardly any questions, and the vote to approve is always unanimous. Financial reports are only available to the public via Open Records Request.”
Also, CARES claims students suffering from the lack of job opportunities within the county are forced to “either take low-paying, local jobs or move,” and because of this, county taxpayers are not reaping the benefits of educational spending.
To this, CEE says, “The ESPLOST helps keep ad valorem taxes stable. Additionally, the children are not the only ones who benefit from good schools. The social and economic strength of a community are greatly influenced by the school system. High-performing schools mean well-prepared citizens, a strong labor market, and an inviting atmosphere for both living and working. One of the key questions asked by industrial/commercial or residential prospects looking to move into a community is ‘What is the quality of the school system?'”
CEE also states ESPLOST collects from not just property owners but everyone doing business in Union County. “Everyone who shops or stays in Union County pays the sales tax,” CEE states.
According to CEE, it is projected that 36 percent of the ESPLOST will be collected from visitors to the county.
CARES refutes this number saying, “This is an argument used all over the country in order to get these ballot initiatives passed … This is a number impossible to substantiate.”
However, CARES states, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Impact, ESPLOST generated $3,809,047 total in 2015 in Union County and tourists were responsible for 6.7 percent of those total collections.
Of the overall need of the ESPLOST, CEE says, “The school system needs to continue to move forward with facility improvements and equipment replacement. Our older facilities are in need of extensive renovations and upgrades. We have a tremendous need to fund transportation and technology upgrades that are no longer funded in the state allotment. Our citizens have supported education for years and the passage of the ESPLOST extension would be a strong demonstration of continued school support by our community.”
For more information on CARES and the argument against the ESPLOST referendum, visit the organization’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Union-County-CARES-244353912714137/?ref=br_rs.
For more information on CEE and the argument supporting the ESPLOST referendum, visit the link on the Union County Schools website at http://www.ucschools.org/news/what_s_new/ESPLOST_V
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