One of the footnoted results of the June 19 election should remind county commissioners of another era of county politics, and give them ample opportunity to avoid the doom of repeating it.
All the buzz before the vote focused on the 24th District state Senate race and the 10th District U.S. House race. But there was a third item on the ballot: A referendum to allow Tax Allocation Districts.
The referendum failed, 53-47 percent. Yawns followed.
But Elections Director Deborah Marshall points out that this was the first time since 1988 that a referendum of any kind has failed in Columbia County.
That failure two decades ago is echoed in the TAD rejection - and both provide a warning to county officials now contemplating the next round of sales tax renewals.
Back in March 1988, the then-Democrat majority on the County Commission proposed implementing the 1-cent, local-option sales tax (SPLOST) for the first time. Critics complained loudly that commissioners refused to provide enough details on just how they planned to spend the money.
Many of those critics were Republicans, who were on the cusp of taking over the county government. They turned out to vote that year in such record numbers that it even forced elections officials to actually restock some polling sites with GOP ballots.
The sales tax referendum went down in flames, 61-39 percent. Later that year, Republicans also booted the Democrat majority from power.
Fast-forward nearly 20 years. The Republicans comfortably control every partisan elected county office.
Perhaps too comfortably, as the TAD loss illustrates. Three weeks before the election, we urged commissioners to work on educating the public about TADs. Their ho-hum response was to provide a guest column from the county attorney, and include information about TADs in their water-bill newsletter.
Even with obligatory endorsements from the county's Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce, it obviously wasn't enough.
Would it have helped to, as we suggested, to hold a public forum to discuss the complicated tax districts? Maybe, maybe not. But we do know this much: Commissioners might want to convince themselves that lack of information doomed the TAD vote.
Otherwise, if that 1988 rejection has any lessons, they'd better brace for another voter revolution. That revolt could culminate in a tough road for re-approval next year when SPLOST comes up for renewal.
The best preventative will be fiscal restraint now, and better information and citizen input later. And if commissioners still haven't learned from the past, voters could very well make them repeat it.
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