To tax or not to tax, that is the question.
The Columbia County Board of Commissioners spent most of Tuesday’s meeting discussing whether the county should or should not impose an excise tax on the sale, use, storage and consumption of energy by industry.
The state recently gave each of 159 designated districts, defined as either counties or municipalities, the option to make up for tax revenue lost to the Georgia’s manufacturing sales tax exemption with a local energy tax. In Columbia County, that would mean manufacturers, who under the state mandate will see their tax bill drop from 7 percent to 1 percent, would instead have to pay 3 percent. While the Board of Commissioners did not, nor were they allowed to, make a decision regarding Columbia County’s official stance on the tax, all seemed to favor imposing it.
“(The state) gets the credit for supporting industry and we get to be the bad guys,” said Commission Chairman Ron Cross.
The argument against the tax hinges on growth and supporting not only industry already established in the state generally and Columbia County specifically, but also the ability to attract new industry.
Mike Hogan, the plant manager at the John Deere factory outside Grovetown, said that profit margins for industry are becoming increasingly slim, necessitating measures like the tax break for American companies to remain competitive.
“We are in a very competitive business, on a worldwide basis,” he told the board. “Every dollar counts. It’s about employment. We want to expand. We want to expand here in Columbia County. Remaining competitive is going to be an important part of that.”
Although no decision can be made as to whether or not the county will waive or collect the tax, the commissioners unanimously voted to start the official process of establishing a taxation package. Under Georgia law, a county must meet with all incorporated municipalities within its borders, Harlem and Grovetown in the case of Columbia County, at least 30 days before adoption. The purpose is to determine whether those municipalities will choose to collect the tax for industry within city limits or allow the county to. Proceeds from the tax may be used as the collector, be it municipality or county, sees fit. The meetings, approved by the Commissioners, will occur at least 10 days after Jan. 1.
“We want to support industry,” said Commissioner Trey Allen. “And certainly tax relief is an important component. But so is quality of life and that 2 percent would go toward that.”
In other actions, commissioners tabled a request to rezone parcels on Rose Lane until the Dec. 18 commission meeting and to postpone a request to approve a PUD revision for the Crawford Creek community until March. The commission approved the purchase of 8.3 acres on Point Comfort Road, adjacent to the county's water treatment plant, from Allen Morris for $274,000.
Morris is the brother of Commissioner William Morris, who was not present for the vote nor participated in the negotiations.