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Officials upbeat about collections for SPLOST VI
Past taxes havent reached dollar goal
Penny Phillips bags purchases at Target on Shallowford Road in Gainesville. Each local purchase includes a one percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Local officials are optimistic that SPLOST VI, if passed Tuesday by Hall County voters, will collect the goal of $240 million. - photo by Tom Reed

Two hundred and forty million dollars is a lot of money.

But despite the dismal state of the economy, Hall County Purchasing Manager Tim Sims feels confident that the full amount of SPLOST VI, or close to it, can be collected within the next six years.

Early voting on SPLOST VI continues through Friday; the tax is the only item on Tuesday’s ballot.

In the past, the goal of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax has not been met.

SPLOST IV, which began in 1999 and ended in 2004, came up nearly $22 million short of the $144 million the tax was originally expected to raise.

The months of slow sales tax collections were attributed to the economic fallout after Sept. 11, 2001.

With much less money than expected, the county had to reduce funding for many of the SPLOST IV projects. Other projects were abandoned and many of the project categories were scaled back by millions of dollars.

"The fire department was the one that took a big hit," Sims said.

SPLOST V, which will end June 30, is much more likely to raise its target $148 million.

"As of the end of February, we are at $125 million, which is about $20 million off our target," Sims said.

It is likely however, that collections will be about $4 million short.

SPLOST V is keeping pace in the poor economy much better than SPLOST IV, thanks to county growth.

"Because we had such a population explosion in 2005 and 2006 and most of 2007, we actually collected more than our projections," Sims said.

Sims pointed out that the SPLOST is levied on purchases small and large. Regardless of the recession, people are still out spending money.

"People aren’t buying the big ticket items. And that’s where a lot of our downturn in our sales tax receipts are. Because you’re getting groceries, you’re still going to Wal-Mart and buying your toiletries and all your essentials each day," Sims said.

The $240 million Hall County aims to collect during the next six years — about $100 million more than SPLOST V — may seem like a lofty goal, but Sims said it’s realistic.

"It’s $100 million more in one year, but it’s the growth," he said, which accounts for population increases and inflation.

Assistant Hall County Administrator Phil Sutton said the statistics used to predict the SPLOST revenues have been accurate in the past.

"We do a regression analysis," Sutton said. "It’s an average of the averages."

Sutton said the collections each month from SPLOST V are used to mathematically project what collections will be like through 2015.

Sutton said the same method was used to successfully project SPLOST V collections.

"We were very much on the money with SPLOST V," Sutton said. "Our projections were almost identical with what actually happened."

Sutton said county officials were thinking in the long term with projections and taking into account that the low collections would not be permanent.

"I would expect that in the first year they’ll probably be lighter and then, as we come out of this recession, that generally they’ll be stronger; there’s sort of a bounce of strong economic growth and strong sales tax collections," Sutton said.

And with more commercial and retail growth likely in Hall County’s future, Sutton said $240 million is a modest number.

"The number could be better than this," Sutton said.

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