SPLOST Tax Votes Coming Up Tuesday, Nov 5 - By Todd Rehm
From the Gwinnett Daily Post article on last night’s Tea Party/County Commission Town Hall meeting, it sounds like it was a worthwhile exercise in participatory democracy. Kudos to all involved.
The proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot would extend the sales tax for three years, with about 70 percent of the $498 million expected in revenues earmarked for transportation.
Even some of the panelists encouraging people to vote no on the issue admitted some of the projects from past programs have benefited the county greatly. But one of those panelists, Chris McClurg, said the extension of the program is about determining the county’s wants versus needs.
“If you have more money than you have sense, then vote for the SPLOST,” he said.
Supporter Mike Levengood described the one-percent sales as an approach to taxation that “ought to appeal to fiscal conservatives” because it is based on consumption and creates no local debt. But others said county officials have become too used to the multi-million dollar funding stream.
Bringing up controversies over the payment of inflated prices for parkland and corruption, opponents said the leaders have not been accountable for the money, while supporters pointed to project lists devised by residents.
McClurg described a recent announcement that $5 million of the money would go toward an emergency response system at local schools as a “scare and spend” tactic. One audience member said that proposal prompted his support.
“I’m going to vote for this tax simply because of that,” Andrew Pourchier, a father of two, said, adding he knows the system won’t keep incidents from happening but could help police respond if they do. “What I do believe can happen is we can save lives during a tragedy.”
Voters in Savannah and Chatham County will also decide on a SPLOST on Tuesday. Bill Dawers for the Savannah Morning News has some good details.
Local voters have approved the 1 percent sales tax for infrastructure five times in the last 30 years. In 2006, the current SPLOST collection was supported by 60 percent of voters, but the upcoming vote will likely be much closer.
Last week, I looked at the project list approved by Chatham County. That followed earlier columns about the city of Savannah’s list, which is headlined by a new arena.
The smaller municipalities would expect to receive more than $42 million from the tax, which would begin in October 2014 and continue through September 2020.
There would be $3.2 million for Bloomingdale, $8.1 million for Garden City, $16.9 million for Pooler, $6.2 million for Port Wentworth, $3.8 million for Thunderbolt, $4.2 million for Tybee and $150,000 for Vernonburg.
Tybee would get additional funding because Chatham County has pledged another $7 million for facility improvements and beach renourishment.
The smaller municipalities would use their money in a variety of ways.
Dawers also notes “trust issues” regarding the SPLOST:
I suspect many of the “no” votes in a couple weeks will come from people who are still in favor of specific projects but don’t trust the current crop of local leaders.
Or they don’t trust the SPLOST process, even though the vast majority of projects have been completed as promised over the last 30 years.
Savannah Tea Party activists are opposing the SPLOST and have taken to the streets in opposition.
“We don’t feel that the projects that have been selected are the best for the community. We are offended by the fact that there was no public input taken by the community, they just decided on their own. If we had a choice, we would support SPLOST if it was for every police precinct on every single corner because we believe public safety should be the government’s first job,” said co-founder of the Savannah Tea Party, Jeanne Seaver.
In Carroll County, the SPLOST, if passed, will raise approximately $96 million over six years. The Times-Georgian has details on how the money would be divided between county and cities, and the plans for much of the money.
The referendum would also give the county authorization to issue up to $40 million in bonds to fund projects.
Both the cities and the county have listed proposed projects on the ballot that are under broad categories to give the municipalities flexibility in spending for projects.
“SPLOST is a really good way to get things done that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” said Carrollton Mayor Wayne Garner.
“Carrollton is a regional shopping center that brings people in from other counties in Georgia and east Alabama. When they’re here spending money, they pay sales tax which makes our community better.”
“SPLOST is becoming a very inherent part of paying for roads, streets, bridges and sidewalks in the county,” said County Commission Chairman Marty Smith. “After the vote takes place, and if it passes, we’ll start identifying and prioritizing the individual projects.”
Walker County voters will decide on a SPLOST, and officials in one of Walker County’s cities say without SPLOST proceeds they’ll be forced to raise property taxes by 15-20 percent.
In Haralson County, a notable use for SPLOST, if passed, will be building a new county jail, which is stirring controversy.
The county intends to take $3.7 million from the SPLOST proceeds and set it aside for a “county jail, correctional institution or detention facility.”
Such a project is, defined by state law, as a “level one” project, which the law further specifies must be funded before all other county-wide projects scheduled for the SPLOST. In layman’s terms: the cities get nothing for their projects for a full year.
To minimize the impact on the cities, Haralson County Commission Chairman Allen Poole and other county officials say they are open to spreading out the collection of the county’s $3.7 million over the course of five years, distributing the balance of the funds to the cities. Yet, the legal experts consulted by the Gateway-Beacon say this cannot be done.
Complicating things much further, the county proposes to deposit its revenues for the jail project into what has been described as a bank or escrow account. But the legal experts say money deposited in such a manner will only accrue at a modest interest; not nearly the rate necessary to raise adequate capital for a jail, which everyone – including Poole – concedes cannot be built for $3.7 million.
This raises the even more complex issue of “infeasibility.” The law allows counties the ability to stop funding a county-wide project that has been deemed “infeasible” for such reasons as, say, finding a federally protected mollusk on the site of the intended project. But the experts consulted for this article are concerned that setting aside money for a project that cannot be built for the specific amount authorized could make the county’s jail project “infeasible” from the get-go.
Rockdale County Board of Education hopes to raise nearly $84 million over five years with an E-SPLOST, which will be used for capital improvements.
Harris County voters are being asked to pass a five-year extension of the existing SPLOST which is due to expire in January. The current SPLOST was projected to raise $21 million, but only collected $12 million, resulting in a number of projects not receiving funding.
Pierce County is holding a SPLOST election.
If Lowndes County voters approve, a six-year SPLOST will raise nearly $150 million with $80 million for Valdosta, $63 million for the County, and the balance to the other four municipalities.
In Henry County, SPLOST IV, if passed, will raise $142 million, with 75% going to county government projects.
A SPLOST in Madison County is forecast to raise $12.39 million over six years and dedicate $6.49 million for road projects.