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SPLOST vote coming this fall

POSTED: April 28, 2014 9:25 p.m.

Local government officials are pushing forward on a new special purpose local option sales tax and intend to hold a ballot referendum on the measure come Election Day, Nov. 4.

Officials met Monday night at Chateau Elan in Braselton to lay out the schedule for public hearings on the proposed new tax and discuss the particulars of a SPLOST VII.

SPLOST originated in 1985 as a 1 percent sales tax to pay for capital projects, infrastructure and development expenses. Money from the tax has been spent on everything from road improvements and public works projects to libraries and parks to public safety operations and building construction.

SPLOST VI was approved by voters in 2009 and is set to expire next year.

If approved by voters, a SPLOST VII would have a five-year life and take effect July 1, 2015. Revenues distributed to each municipality would be determined based on population estimates, and officials are considering using some money off the top to pay for joint city-county projects.

Local governments must hold public hearings, build a project list, finalize cost and revenue estimates, and call for a referendum 60 days prior to a vote.

Officials said it is paramount to include voters in the process, and plan to hold two public input meetings, tentatively set for June 10 and 19. At those times, officials will identify funding priorities and begin building a project list.

A July 24 date has been set for the county to adopt a resolution approving SPLOST VII and instructing election officials to call for a fall referendum.

Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton said officials must walk a fine line in this process, pointing out which projects could be served by the tax while not specifically advocating them. It is necessary to gather the public’s wish list, he added.

One of the biggest challenges in selling a SPLOST VII to the public is the fact revenue from the current tax has fallen well below projections.

Initial projections for SPLOST VI placed revenues for the county and participating cities at about $240 million over the six-year life of the tax. But those estimates have now dropped to $152 million.

Dr. Alfie Meek, an economist at Georgia Tech, has been hired by the county to help formulate revenue projections for a SPLOST VII.

Gainesville City Councilman Sam Couvillon said convincing voters of the wisdom of approving a new SPLOST will depend not on selling the projects so much as relating their benefits.

“Hopefully, (voters) will take ownership of that,” he said.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said he believes having a citizen oversight committee will help alleviate voters’ concerns.

Officials plan to have such a committee meet quarterly to review revenues, expenditures and project status.

Another challenge will be convincing voters that no other good options remain to finance capital projects. Officials roundly agreed that spending general fund money, issuing bonds or raising ad valorem taxes were not viable.

Moreover, they insisted on the need to finance capital projects based on the expected growth coming to Hall County.

“(Voters) have no idea what we’re looking at,” said Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Mecum.

But identifying the right kind of projects to fund will take some due diligence, and officials said it is important to set priorities on them with respect to the county’s needs.

“We’ve got to proceed cautiously,” Couvillon said.


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