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SPLOST vote passes in Hall County
Issue decided by 6.5 percent of voters
Megan Morris visits the West Whelchel voting precinct at Gainesville First United Methodist Church on Tuesday afternoon to cast her ballot as voters decide on a one-cent special purpose local option sales tax.

Hall County voters on Tuesday approved a new five-year round of special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST VII.

With a turnout of just 6.5 percent of registered voters, the 1 percent sales tax to fund public infrastructure projects countywide passed 63.46 percent to 36.54 percent.

“First, I want to thank the voters ... for their support, and assure them that the city and county will get together and appoint the committee to oversee the SPLOST,” said Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan.

Local government officials were concerned about how budgets might be impacted if SPLOST VII failed at the polls.

“We were worried today that if it didn’t pass, what are we going to do?” Dunagan said.

Piggybacking on these fears, Gainesville Councilman Sam Couvillon said, “If we didn’t build a park, we could probably figure out how to make do without a park. But roads and stormwater (infrastructure) ... that would have been very problematic” to address.

Hall County Commissioner Scott Gibbs said he believes the result of the vote shows residents understand the need to plan for coming growth.

“I think voters realize this is a way to let everybody help pay,” he added.

Only about 5,400 of more than 83,000 registered voters in the county cast ballots in the referendum.

According to Hall County Elections Director Charlotte Sosebee, 1,721 ballots were cast during three weeks of early voting.

Turnout has been poor in recent SPLOST votes, as well, but this year proved to be even worse.

An E-SPLOST proposal to fund education was approved in 2011, but turnout was just 8.3 percent, or 6,757 of 81,360 registered voters.

And In 2009, for example, just 9.3 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the SPLOST VI election. Only 7,565 votes were cast among 81,307 total voters.

The latest revenue projection for SPLOST VII stands at $158 million.

Road improvements, upgrades to the emergency 911 system, renovations to the main library branch in Gainesville and remodeling of the Senior Life Center are among the big-ticket items.

“The funds that are being used go to the Hall County library, which I think is very good,” said Jocelyne Keijzer, a Gainesville resident who voted Tuesday at the Brenau Downtown Center. “I go to a lot of their programs with my children.”

Money from previous SPLOST initiatives has been spent on everything from parks and public works projects to public safety operations and building construction.

SPLOST money cannot, however, be spent on maintenance and operations costs, meaning these expenses will fall on the general fund and other revenue streams in the budget.

Residents voting against the tax told The Times this added expense was one of several reasons they were in opposition.

Proponents, meanwhile, say SPLOST is a fairer mechanism for funding infrastructure projects because the cost is spread among residents and visitors.

“I know how many people from out of the city come through here and use all our services ... and I think this way everybody helps pay for it,” said Gainesville resident and voter Cynthia Booth.

And local government officials have repeatedly said that without SPLOST, property taxes were likely to increase.

“As homeowners, it’s sharing the load,” said Gainesville resident and voter Joe Roark.

Criticisms of how previous sales tax revenues have been spent, as well as uncertainty about just how much money will be collected, have prompted local government officials to commit to organizing a citizens oversight committee.

But Gainesville resident Charlie Langford, who voted against the tax at the Civic Center, said governments have not traditionally been good stewards of tax dollars, and he doesn’t expect things to change with SPLOST VII.