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Hall Progress 2009 promoting passage of sales tax on Tuesday

POSTED: March 14, 2009 12:45 a.m.

The "Vote Yes" signs are all over Gainesville’s Green Street, as are advertisements in The Times.

Behind those signs is a group called Hall Progress 2009, the only state-registered ballot committee raising funds to support — or oppose — the county’s SPLOST VI vote set for Tuesday.

As of March 2, Hall Progress 2009 had spent more than $6,700 on signs and advertisements promoting the sales tax referendum, according to a report filed with the State Ethics Commission. It has raised nearly twice that amount from more than 16 businesses.

The committee was formed by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. Its supporters are a wide range of landowners, business groups and engineering firms with interests in Hall County.

The chamber creates a committee to raise money in support of SPLOST referendums each time one comes up on the ballot, whether it be for an education sales tax or municipal, chamber president Kit Dunlap said.

But not everyone who has donated to the current committee is a chamber member, said H. Cooper Embry, a chamber board member whose name is listed on the Hall Progress 2009 campaign disclosure report.

"It’s a group of folks," Embry said. "They might happen to be a member of the chamber, but it doesn’t mean that’s who is promoting (the tax). It’s kind of an outside entity."

In accordance with state law, Hall Progress 2009 registered with the State Ethics Commission on March 2, reporting 16 contributors that donated a minimum of $500 in support of SPLOST VI.

State law requires organizations that accept donations in support or opposition to a ballot measure to register and report campaign contributions if donations exceed $500, state ethics commission executive secretary Rick Thompson said.

The law creates transparency in campaign financing so that interested members of the public can see who supports different issues, Thompson said.

"The chamber of commerce starting a separate committee where they reflect where the contributions are coming from, and the expenditures are being made, is exactly what they should be doing, because that keeps the transparency there," Thompson said.

Local governments are prohibited by state law from promoting a local ballot question. And though many municipalities in Hall County fund the chamber’s economic development council, the report shows that signs and advertisements for SPLOST VI are purchased with funds raised separately from any chamber budget.

The report Hall Progress 2009 filed with the state commission shows that the local committee raised a total of $12,950 in support of the SPLOST VI measure from construction companies, banks and industries. Some of the engineering firms contributed to the local campaign from home offices in Atlanta, North Carolina and Colorado, according to the report.

Arcadis, a Denver, Colo., based engineering firm that does design work for many department of transportation projects in Georgia, routinely supports SPLOST measures in counties where the money would pay for infrastructure improvements, firm spokesperson Jeanna Blatt said.

Arcadis donated $500 to Hall Progress 2009.

The firm previously supported similar sales taxes in Cobb, Fayette and Fulton counties, Blatt said.

Carl Nichols, manager of Glade Farm, LLC, one of the county’s largest landowners, said the Athens-based company wanted to do what it could to make sure SPLOST VI passes Tuesday.

Glade Farm and its subsidiary company donated $2,000 to Hall Progress 2009. The company plans to build a self-contained community on more than 1,500 acres between Ga. 52 and Ga. 365 north of Lula. One of the projects on the SPLOST VI list would add a sewer line along Ga. 365 to serve that community.

"Obviously that would be good for us, but it’s also good for a lot of other people along the 365 corridor there, too," Nichols said.

Nichols said he contributed to the campaign because a special purpose sales tax allows everyone in Hall County, and not just property owners, to fund infrastructure projects.

"We think it’s good for the community, and we want to do every bit of our responsible part for the community," Nichols said.



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