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Voter opinion mixed as end of poll on sales tax nears
SPLOST VII projected to bring in $158 million for infrastructure, other projects
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A scattering of exit polling reveals mixed opinions about the fate of a 1 percent sales tax to fund public infrastructure projects countywide.

Voters will decide on Tuesday whether to approve a new five-year round of special purpose local option sales tax.

“I don’t want to pay another penny,” said Hall County resident Kay Handran after voting against the tax last week. “We’ve been through this before ...”

But for Gainesville residents Anne and Richard Lea, a hike in sales taxes is “better than” an increase in property taxes.

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

Additionally, 94 absentee mail-in ballots have been received.

Turnout has been poor in recent SPLOST votes.

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.

Approved by 62 percent of voters, SPLOST VI had an initial revenue projection of about $240 million over the  six-year life of the tax.

But actual collections will barely surpass $154 million.

The economic recession had a heavy hand in this failure to meet revenue expectations, and the recovery remains tenuous, said Bob and Bert, a married couple from Flowery Branch who declined to give their last name.

Both voted against SPLOST VII, concerned that government is targeting additional tax revenue when residents can’t afford it.

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.

Gainesville resident Cherry Terry said she supports SPLOST VII, particularly because of the many fixes needed to city roads, which can benefit minority neighborhoods like hers.

Terry said she could also personally benefit from renovations to the Senior Life Center.

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.

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

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

Few dispute the value of the projects that made the SPLOST VII funding list, said Jeff Floyd, a Gainesville resident who works for the Department of Transportation.

“People are against it because they don’t think the money goes to the right place,” he added.

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

The proposed committee is meant to ensure only projects specifically approved by voters are funded with SPLOST VII revenues.

In years past, local government has simply stipulated broad categories available for funding, such as roads and buildings. And this has led to criticism from voters that SPLOST is a little more than a slush fund that takes the political heat off officials when it comes to property taxes.

Floyd said a strong project list and critical needs make the tax necessary.

“We’ve got so much infrastructure to do,” he added.