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Joint government group endorses continued sales tax
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FLOWERY BRANCH — The Joint Local Government Association voted Monday night to endorse the 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which goes before Hall County voters on March 17.

The current tax program ends in June. If approved by voters, the tax would continue for another six years and generate an estimated $240 million for capital improvements.

Tom Oliver, the group’s presiding officer and chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, called the tax program "the roadway to our future."

He framed his comments around worries about the economy.

"We’re going to get through these slow times," he said to the group, which gathered along with other city officials at the Hall County Library System’s Spout Springs branch. "We’re going to look forward to the sun coming up in the east and setting in the west."

The list of projects included in SPLOST VI includes road and street improvements, water and sewer system projects, recreational facilities, fire and EMS vehicles, a health department expansion and a North Hall library.

The cities also will grab a nearly $45 million share of the tax, with their projects including sewer, parks and sidewalk improvements.

"This is extremely important for Gainesville," said City Councilman George Wangemann, referring specifically to the city’s plans for a new public safety complex.

"We cannot afford to put this (project) on property taxes," he said.

Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling said, "I think everybody in this room would be hurt if SPLOST did not pass."

Government officials heard from Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, and Rob Fowler, chairman of the chamber’s Vision 2030 initiative, on efforts to promote the tax in the community.

Dunlap said the chamber has formed a committee, Hall Progress 2009, to carry out that task.

She said the chamber is booking speaking engagements around the county,
including civic clubs, to push and educate voters about SPLOST.

"We’ll be back down here (in South Hall) a couple more times," Dunlap added.

Officials pointed out that the Spout Springs library, which opened last year, was funded through SPLOST and state money — a project that ended up costing about $5.7 million.

Dunlap said chamber officials especially are trying to tell the public that the vote calls for extending the tax another six years — not adding another penny to the sales tax.

Flowery Branch Councilwoman Mary Jones said that she believed "there are many people out there who (mistakenly) think it’s a new penny."

In other business, the association also voted to send a letter opposing Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposal to withhold the Homeowner’s Tax Relief Grant.

Faced with a nearly $2 billion revenue shortfall, Perdue has threatened to cut the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant, a state reimbursement to counties and cities of money they lose on property tax homestead exemptions.