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Will SPLOST ever end? That’s up to Hall voters

County official sees continued support for 1-cent sales tax

POSTED: April 16, 2017 1:00 a.m.
CARLOS GALARZA/The Times

Hall County SPLOST Manager Tim Sims, left, and Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix point out areas where projects are underway that are being paid for with revenue from a 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2015. They see support for the tax continuing and revenues topping $1 billion since SPLOST was introduced in 1985.

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A Hall County official says he’s confident voters will continue to back a revenue-generating 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax, commonly known as SPLOST.

Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix is not surprised that over the past 32 years voters have agreed to approve seven SPLOST initiatives that have generated almost $600 million in revenues.

Nix started his career in Hall County working as a booking officer in the detention center in 1984. The next year, he saw voters approve the county’s first SPLOST. He had no idea then that it would continue to be a steady stream of revenue for the county.

“I knew that we were getting capital projects done, but I didn’t understand the scope of how much it would lead to funding so many capital projects,” Nix said. “I was young. I didn’t foresee that happening.”

Today, approaching the midway mark of SPLOST VII approved by voters in 2015, Tim Sims — the SPLOST and purchasing manager for the county — said Hall officials will soon start discussing needs and the prospect of pursuing the next penny-per-dollar sales tax as early as 2019. By his calculations, Sims predicts that if voters continue to vote for the sale tax, the county could top $1 billion in SPLOST revenues by 2030.

Hall County has a 7 percent sales tax, same as 107 of Georgia’s 159 counties, according to the state Department of Revenue. The sales tax includes the state’s fixed 4 percent sales tax and 1 cent each for an added local option tax, the county SPLOST and education SPLOST.

Another 45 counties have an 8 percent sales tax because they’ve added another penny per dollar for transportation, DOR data shows. The remaining counties have a 6 percent sales tax.  

Nix is confident the county can continue going to the well and earning voters’ approval because of its track record of getting projects completed, and accounting for every dollar spent.

“For this type of program to proceed, you have to have transparency,” Nix said. “The public has to see that their money is going to the projects that the government says it is going to go to.”

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said that without raising money through SPLOST, capital improvements would have to be paid through the general fund and local government officials would be faced the tough decision of having to raise property taxes.

Dunagan said people in Gainesville and Hall County have supported SPLOST because it’s spread out all consumers, and a big percentage — estimated at about 30 percent by the Convention and Visitors Bureau — is paid by visitors to the city and county.

“I think it’s one of the reasons it’s passed all these years,” Dunagan said. “And Gainesville and Hall County have been frugal. When we put those projects out there and tell the public what we’re going to do with them, we do it.”

Dunagan said SPLOST has been instrumental for many roads and sewer projects, pays for fire trucks that cost about $1 million each, and is making possible a new senior center in town and a youth sports complex he says will generate economic development for the entire area.

Nix said that for SPLOST VII, county commissioners added more transparency to the process by setting up a citizens’ oversight committee. He said Sims will meet with the group April 25 at the Sheriff’s Office and give them a report on revenues collected and the projects being funded with the money.

“It a committee for us to be transparent with them so that they can go back and report to the citizens that we’re spending the money as we said we were,” Sims said.

Aside from meeting with the committee, Sims said he also posts monthly updates of SPLOST money coming in and how it’s being spent that the public can access on the county’s website, hallcounty.org.

Sims said the recession had an impact in establishing the committee and creating more transparency after SPLOST VI in 2009 fell short of projections by $82 million. Officials anticipated getting $240 million, but ended up collecting $158.8 million

“Some citizens had concerns of why we projected so high and we didn’t get that,” Sims said. “Once they came in and saw it’s all driven by sales tax and consumers buying things, and that wasn’t happening at that time, then they understood what was going on. We wanted to make sure they knew we had a transparent program and that’s why that committee was set up.”

By the middle or end of 2018, county officials begin analyzing needs and start having discussions about an eighth SPLOST levy. Nix said the needs are compiled through strategic planning by county departments takes into account population growth and trends.

“We have had opposition for SPLOST,” Nix said. “Some were not in support of any tax. We put it out to the voters in a democratic process and they can decide if the projects we’ve put in that SPLOST are important enough to them to vote for.

Nix said county officials don’t advocate for SPLOST or any sales tax. He said that’s left up to stakeholders.

“We as administrators, you’ll never hear us say ‘please go vote for SPLOST,’” Nix said. “We never say that.”



Comments

2 comments
myview: April 16, 2017 12:56 p.m.

It is amazing how the state and county takes your money and calls it tax. Might as well call it stealing. For example you can buy a used car for $8,000 but the govt can pick a value out of the air and say we are charging you sales tax on $12,000. So you pay 7% sales tax on $4,000 you never spent. If that is not stealing then what is it?


jgalt: April 16, 2017 5:36 p.m.

The last vote would have failed but the politicians cheated the voters by moving the vote. It should have been voted on during the general election but the moved it to March so there would be less turnout.



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