Did you know you’ve spent $552.5 million building things around Hall County?
At a penny on every dollar spent at the register, residents, visitors and passers-through raised more than half a billion dollars in infrastructure cash from 1985 to 2015 through the special purpose local option sales tax.
And more sales tax dollars are flowing in all the time. The county is in the middle of the seventh round of SPLOST, a tax expected to raise $158 million by 2020, or more than the first three rounds of SPLOST put together in sheer number of dollars.
When it was created, the tax lasted fewer than three years; it now lasts five. The last round went to the voters in 2015, and another vote is expected in 2020. With the county’s population and economy growing, the next SPLOST could reach well beyond the current round’s $158 million.
But will voters keep going for the tax, given the growing list of projects and growing demands on it?
County administration hopes so, and has come up with a way to remind voters of the benefits of SPLOST: Signs noting which buildings, ambulances, roads, parks and other projects around the county have been built wholly or in part by SPLOST dollars.
It’s a long list. In the past 20 years, the sales tax has been used to build or expand roads, jails, civic centers, Chicopee Woods, the Elachee Nature Center, courthouses, water and wastewater projects, the Hall County Health Department, the Spout Springs Library, the Hall County Emergency Services Complex and a slew of smaller buildings and projects.
So far, the signs have only been placed on tennis courts in East Hall, Sardis, Alberta Banks and Hog Mountain, according to Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley. The rest of the signs will be placed at county facilities when their poles are delivered, Crumley said.
One of the county’s allies in the effort is real estate professional Frank Norton Jr., chairman of the citizen review committee of SPLOST VII. The committee includes Mark Pettitt, Brent Hoffman, Douglas Aiken, Carol Werner, Robert Horne, Brian Gracey, Mark Bell and Michelle Mintz.
“We’re a review and oversight process; our job is to ask questions,” Norton said at the end of November. “Why are you doing it this way, and did you explore other ways of doing it so that we can squeeze a nickel out of a penny?”
In April, the group helped amend and extend funding for the Senior Life Center, but the committee isn’t just reviewing the projects; it wants to help spread the word about SPLOST.
By Norton’s description, it’s hard to overstate the impact of the infrastructure built by SPLOST dollars.
The sales tax even helped create the county’s current inmate work program, which has now evolved into an inmate job training program with a full welding shop at the Hall County Correctional Institute.
The ramping-up of inmate labor to more technical jobs like welding and fabrication started during the economic recession, when the county was trying to build a new headquarters for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
“I do have inmates and they could do demo, but I have this inmate who does welding, and I have these inmates here ... who are old painters,” Norton said, summarizing the county’s reasoning. “So they built a workforce inside our prisoner base as a way of training them to gain their way back into society, but at the same time ... that is a way of leveraging our tax dollars.”
With an influx of new people in the county — Hall’s population is expected to add more than 120,000 people in the next 20 years — Norton and the county don’t want SPLOST projects to be forgotten.
“Let’s say, Cresswind (at Lake Lanier),” Norton said. “There are 700 homes in Cresswind, and they’ve all come here in the past three or four or five years. Do they know about the Elachee story? The reason we have this fantastic 911 center is a SPLOST initiative. The reason they have their degree of safety is SPLOST.”
He also noted the Healan’s Head’s Mill, which was bought and partly restored with SPLOST money. The sales tax cash has helped invigorate the Friends of Healan’s Head’s Mill, a volunteer group collecting donations to restore the 170-year-old property.
“We’ve put a little money in the mill, which helped leverage donations, which helped leverage the recent grant that expands this 3-acre site to 100 acres,” Norton said. “Twenty years from now, people are going to say this is really cool. Well, it started with a little seed money from SPLOST.”