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Opinion: Why we're big fans of SPLOST, the penny sales tax
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A Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax sign is posted March 10, 2018, at the Splash Pad at Laurel Park. The area was renovated in 2017. - photo by David Barnes

Those who live, work and visit in Hall County would not be able to enjoy the same quality of life and community amenities that combine to make the area a special place were it not for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax programs of the last 34 years.

It is a simple as that.

Since 1985, county and municipal leaders have used revenue from the SPLOST to finance major capital projects that otherwise would have impossibly overburdened those who pay traditional property taxes.

Since the approval of the first SPLOST in 1985, some $670 million has been generated by the 1% sales tax to fund specific projects, such as roads, bridges, fire stations, parks and libraries. And for the most, the collection process has been relatively painless, an additional penny sales tax added to each dollar spent locally.

Because it taxes consumer purchases rather than property ownership, the additional sales tax is paid by everyone who buys goods in the county. For a community like ours that benefits from a heavy influx of tourists and travelers each year, that means those who live elsewhere are helping to finance badly needed government facilities that might otherwise go unbuilt.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Mandy Harris
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo

Needless to say, we are unabashed supporters of the SPLOST concept. The nature of the SPLOST program requires that specific projects be identified in advance of voter approval, and funds earmarked for use on those projects are not available for other needs. The SPLOST expires after a certain period of time, and has to be presented to the voters again for approval if it is to continue. In addition, there is an ongoing SPLOST Citizens Review committee to monitor the tax program.

This fall, voters are being asked to approve SPLOST for the eighth time. They have never refused to do so in the past, providing perhaps the best evidence of the program’s record of success.

If voters approve SPLOST VIII, proceeds from the sales tax will be used to fund parks, nature trails and greenspace, ambulances and law enforcement vehicles, roads and traffic improvements, renovations of government buildings and facilities, an expansion of the county’s fire training center, a new library for the East Hall area and a variety of municipal projects specific to the various towns located within the county.

If approved, the new SPLOST will last for six years, and cannot be continued again unless the voters again approve doing so. During that six years, it is expected to generate an estimated $216 million.

It is important to note that this is not a new tax. The SPLOST has been collected locally for more than three decades. It is a continuation of what is already in place, with no increase.

Because we have become so accustomed to the SPLOST, it is easy to forget the consequences of not having the program in place. Were the sales tax not being collected to pay for certain big ticket items, they would have to be funded through traditional property taxes. Many of the projects vital to the ongoing growth, progress and improvement of our area would prove financially impossible if their cost had to be shouldered only by the county’s property owners.

And lest you think higher property taxes would not affect you because you don’t own property, remember that such increases typically filter down to the rents paid by residential tenants and leases for commercial space.

Simply put, without SPLOST we could not do many of the things that most of us want to see done and expect as a given in the area in which we live -- like improving traffic, building parks, and supporting public safety.

So why are we talking about SPLOST now? The current sales tax program is about to expire, and voter approval is needed to continue the tax. The Nov. 5 election ballots for the county and its municipalities include the renewal of SPLOST, and early voting starts Monday morning.

While some of the county’s municipalities have city elections on Nov. 5, the SPLOST referendum is the only issue on the countywide ballot, meaning turnout is likely to be sparse at best. Given that, it’s more important than ever that voters take the time to cast a ballot in favor of continuing the 1% tax collection.

If you want to do your part to make ours a better place to live, work and play, take the time to cast a ballot, either in early voting or on Nov. 5, and vote “yes” for continuation of the SPLOST tax program as a means of financing big-ticket items that would otherwise prove impossible.

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