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Guest column: Recession is all the more reason to approve SPLOST

POSTED: February 15, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, once was asked what he thought about the recession. He responded, "I've thought about it and decided I don't want to take part in it."

With today's ongoing economic collapse, there is a tendency to panic and make irrational decisions. Like stop investing in your 401(k). Like stuffing your life savings under a mattress.

Or like rejecting a long-time proven revenue source for local government just because you feel overtaxed, especially in a down economy.

The latter example is a real-life story that could play out if we choose to let the ongoing recession throw away all rational thought related to the upcoming local vote on SPLOST VI. The referendum, which allows early voting but officially takes place March 17, will decide whether our community continues the one-penny local sales tax that has been in place in Hall County for well over two decades.

A careful examination of the history and facts behind SPLOST reveals more than enough reasons to vote "yes" for this very wise and responsible use of our public dollars.

First, keep in mind that we are not voting for a new tax; we are deciding whether to continue an existing 1 percent local sales tax. The current SPLOST was originally approved in 1985 and has never been voted down, even in the midst of other slow economies.

None of us likes to pay taxes, but an overwhelming majority of local voters in five previous SPLOST referenda clearly understand that a 1 percent sales tax is a wise and acceptable option. Everyone who pays for goods and services in Hall County, including up to 40 percent of whom are tourists and visitors, contributes a penny on every dollar to help fund important government services.

Property owners often bear the brunt of the tab for vital public needs such as roads, sewer, and fire and police protection. Thankfully, sales taxes ease the burden a bit.

Consider this fact: From 2002 to today, the millage rate in Hall County has decreased by 18 percent for a public savings of well over $31 million. All the more interesting, our county commission pulled off this feat in the face of rising property tax assessments during better economic times. Without SPLOST, this would never have happened.

Among the proposed projects under SPLOST VI is extensive road resurfacing throughout Hall County, the equivalent of one mill worth of property taxes. Would you have local property owners cover this expense for everyone else who travels our roadways? Of course not.

In all, there are $72 million of roadway improvements set aside under SPLOST VI. That is a lot of money, but we leverage many more millions of dollars with matching state and federal grants. Would we be better off leaving this money on the table and shutting down all road construction? Of course not.

The $240 million list of SPLOST VI projects covers a wide variety of needs throughout the county and in every municipality. Some are "must-have" projects like additional fire and ambulance equipment or expansion of the Health Department to better serve the needs of women, infants and children.

Others, honestly, are in the "must-want" category, projects that enhance our quality of life such as a new library for North Hall County, additional parks and green space and downtown redevelopment for our towns. These types of projects address more than half of the "15 Big Ideas" supported by a broad spectrum of our citizenry during the Vision 2030 forums three years ago.

Do we now let the recession put a hold on our dreams for a better future? Of course not.

We are blessed with many wonderful assets in our community, and the one-penny SPLOST has certainly been one of the practical avenues that led us to where we are today.

These uncertain times no doubt are difficult, but it's also all the more reason that we need to come together and vote "yes" for SPLOST. Let's keep a good thing going.

Emily Bagwell and Cooper Embry are co-chairs of Hall Progress 2009.



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