Berkeley County voters will decide in November whether to support a $250 million bond issue to pay for several new schools and for renovations at others to relieve current and anticipated overcrowding.
If approved in a referendum, the bond issue would increase property taxes on a $100,000 home by $40 a year in 2014 and an additional $40 a year starting in 2017.
The Berkeley County School Board voted 6-3 Tuesday to begin making plans for the referendum. Board members Phillip Obie II, Sheldon Etheridge and Donna Marino voted against the proposal.
The seats held by Obie, Marino and board members Kent Murray, chairman Kathy Schwalbe and Wilhelmina Moore are up for re-election in November.
The timeline also calls for the campaign to be presented to the board in March.
Obie said he would prefer to see the district put together a plan that includes an exact amount and where the new schools will be located, then decide in March whether to proceed.
"Right now I don't have very much information at all other than an estimate and an idea of where we're going to put the schools," he said. "I would like to have more clear information to take out to the people because I've had lots of questions.
"I think we have one shot at getting this done and we want to make sure we … do it right the first time and not have to come back a year or two years from now and put it together again and pitch it back to the people."
Etheridge said he would like to see a feasibility study because he is concerned about the district's current outstanding debt, which is more than $428 million, which includes $294 million in Installment Revenue Purchase Bonds that have been used for building projects since 2003.
"I'm real concerned about getting Berkeley County $250 million more in debt," he said. "My personal opinion is that with the economy the way it is right now … I think a bond referendum would be a hard sell. I would prefer to spend a couple of years gaining more support from the public."
He said he believes the district could save $10 million to $12 million a year by looking internally and at peripheral programs, "and I don't think you'd see any detrimental effects to classroom instruction."
Once that is done, he said, "we would have a whole lot more credibility with the public if they understood that we looked internally for savings before we went out and attempted a $250 million bond referendum. … If we go for a bond referendum and don't get it, the credibility that the school district has built up fiscally over the last couple of years is going to be sunk."
Board member Doug Cooper said officials have known for years that a referendum would be needed, and they have planned for it by doing a land-use study and taking a closer look at school capacity.
"Regardless of the economy, Berkeley county kids are still coming to these schools to the tune of 800 to 1,000 per year additional," he said.
"That's why we now have over 11 schools that are out of capacity. The situation that we are in needs to be shared with the public … my personal opinion is it's time to take it to the public and give them the opportunity to either buy in or not buy in."
The board also voted unanimously to spend up to $10,000 preparing for the March presentation.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Facebook.