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Posted: February 2, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Committee boosts SPLOST

By Gabriel Khouli /

Elected officials by law cannot actively campaign in favor of the 2011 SPLOST list, but they’ve appointed a SPLOST committee of community leaders to carry the banner of support.

The committee contains dozens of business leaders, non-profit officials and community activists. Their goal is to convince Newton County residents to vote in favor of the $57.6 million project list. The committee met Tuesday and is working to spread the word through e-mail, print and civic and religious organizations.

"What we’re trying to do is, No. 1, get people to go vote (in favor). (We’re) making plans to get the facts out," said committee cochairman Denny Dobbs, a former state representative. "The things we’re trying to make people understand are that this is not an additional penny, it’s just a continuation of the one penny (tax) we’ve had. We also want to make sure people also

understand this is not a forever deal. This is a six-year collection."SPLOST is a one cent sales tax that must be approved by voters and can only be used to pay for capital projects, such as new public buildings, roads or infrastructure, or to pay off public debt taken out previously to pay for capital projects.

The 2011 list contains $57.6 million in projects, including $25 million for roads, $8 million to pay off debt service, $7 million for the expansion of the judicial center, $4 million for the expansion of Newton Medical Center’s emergency room, $2.5 million for county vehicles and $1.5 million to complete the Miracle League field.

Some elected officials and residents have expressed opposition to two of the projects in particular, $1.1 million for an agricultural youth facility and $1.1 million for parks and a health, homeless and workforce development center in District 4. Residents have also questioned other projects.

County commissioners have said this would be a difficult SPLOST to pass because voters will be loath to approve any tax in difficult economic times. It’s the committee’s job to make a persuasive case.

"The first thing to remember is that it’s a sales tax. Everybody gets to vote on it. It’s not a millage rate increase and it will get contributions from everyone driving through the county from all surrounding areas, and we draw from a big area," Dobbs said. "We get a big input from people shopping here. It’s a shared burden."

Dobbs contends the majority of projects are must-haves, in particular the $8 million of debt service, which must be paid by the county no matter what. If SPLOST funds are unavailable, property taxes would most likely be increased.

"There’s probably $2 to $2.5 million of expenditures that people may question, but that’s only about 3 percent of the deal, so you’re talking about almost 97 percent in the ‘must’ deal. If you’re going into a business deal and getting 97 percent of what you wanted, that’s a pretty good business deal," Dobbs said.

Dobbs said the county will not be borrowing money for the projects, and will not start on construction until all the money for a project is in the coffers. All projects will still have to come before the county or various city councils again before final approval. If any project falls through or is no longer viable, that money must be used to pay down debt or lower the millage rate, Dobbs said.

"This isn’t the golden goose laying the golden egg," he said.

For more information about the committee contact co-chairmen Denny Dobbs, at (404) 281-5730, or Billy Fortson, at (404) 731-5231.

Although the county cannot offer opinions on SPLOST, officials want to provide residents with correct information about the SPLOST process and list. Residents seeking additional information can submit questions to splost@co.newton.ga.us, and county officials will provide neutral answers.

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