Every five years, Columbia County has a referendum to renew the special-purpose, local-option sales tax.
Every five years, county officials put together a detailed plan for how much money SPLOST is likely to collect and what it should be spent on. Then they hold meetings to seek citizens' their opinions.
After it's all compiled, they hold another meeting to present the final plan, run advertisements with the details and put the whole thing on a ballot.
And every single time the same stupid comment comes up. Again. And again.
When the referendum comes up this fall, someone will inevitably claim it is for a "new" - as in additional - sales tax.
It isn't. The tax expires every five years (six, now, in some cases), and county officials must take it back to voters to get their approval to continue to collect it. (Don't you wish all taxes were like that?)
You'd think this message would have gotten across. But just last week I heard from two relatively educated and generally intelligent people who were alarmed at the prospect of the county "raising the sales tax."
Here we go again.
Meanwhile, if you'd like to see some of the plans for renewal of the tax, and if you'd like to offer your views, the next public hearing is at 6 p.m. Thursday at the government complex auditorium in Evans. The third meeting will be at 6 p.m. July 17 at the Appling Courthouse.
Here are some of the highlights:
- The current sales tax expires after 2010. The renewal is going to a vote this fall in part to allow the county to start some projects early by borrowing money that would be paid back from the sales tax.
Such a plan makes a tradeoff: lower costs for land or construction now, vs. interest on borrowed money.
Also, by putting the renewal to a vote now, the county has time to regroup if voters turn it down. State law doesn't allow a failed sales tax to go back to the voters until a year has passed, so if they waited until November 2010 and it failed, the tax would lapse before another referendum could be held.
Lower taxes? Yippee, right? Not so fast: Don't think your property tax wouldn't make up for the drop in revenue. I'd rather the money come from everyone stopping to buy a candy bar while traveling through the county on Interstate 20 than from homeowners' pockets.
- The next round of taxes will bring in as much as $180 million. The tentative list of projects already adds up to $361 million, which obviously means not everything is going to make the cut. Tentative projects range from the usual road pavings, re-pavings and widenings, expansion of the Columbia County Detention Center and the Justice Center and lots of soccer fields.
The tentative list also includes an indoor swimming pool, one of those projects that costs a lot to build (estimated at $8 million) and more in the future to operate. If anything sinks the project, it will be operation expense; running Richmond County's natatorium costs $500,000 per year.
- The county and the two cities will have to agree on the separate portion the cities will receive (other than what's spent on the county overall, of which both are a part).
If a "historical" distribution formula is used, based on the current split, Grovetown would receive 5.8 percent of the funds, and Harlem would receive 2.7 percent. But if the split is based on population as determined by the 2000 census, Grovetown would get 6.8 percent and Harlem would get 2 percent.
We won't know the results from the next census until after the sales tax is approved, so figuring out this formula now will be a touchy issue.
- Finally, you'll find out that the referendum this year won't approve an additional tax. Let's hope that message finally gets across.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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