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Posted: February 4, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Morgan: SPLOST nothing new

Civic duty calls, and I find myself a member of the citizens committee created to push for the continuation of the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on March 15.

It’s projected to bring in some $57.6 million in the next six years.

Our first committee meeting was chaired by Denny Dobbs, former long-time Newton County state representative, and local businessman Billy Fortson.

The members are a substantive bunch of folks from all across the county who bring a variety of skill sets and contacts to the job. County and municipal governments that badly need the proceeds from the one penny tax aren’t allowed to lobby for passage, so the task falls to folks with a vested interest in seeing this tax continued as it has been since 1987.

"Folks with a vested interest" include you, too.

The existing SPLOST runs out on June 30, so that’s why we’ve got to vote to renew this one-penny collection, which has provided funds for meaningful improvements, new construction, roads and debt service.

In 1987, your vote funded Lake Varner and the Cornish Creek Water Treatment Plant.

In 1995, SPLOST funded the award-winning Judicial Annex and Turner Lake Park, courthouse renovation, a new library voted best in state last year, and many road projects. The 2000 SPLOST funded a new jail, landfill expansion, recreation facilities, a new physical/mental health facility, roads, streets and bridges.

In 2005, the one-cent tax provided design and construction of the county administration building and a neighborhood community center, renovation of the historic jail as a museum, expansion of the landfill and the detention center, a public safety communication system, a civic center and more transportation projects. Collections not spent on intended projects within a certain time period ultimately revert to the county for debt service or transportation. Nothing goes wasted.

This year’s list of SPLOST projects for the county includes $25 million for roads (can’t bicker with that), $7 million to expand the over-capacity judicial center, $4 million to expanded the vastly overcrowded hospital emergency room (been there lately?), $2.5 million for county vehicles including the sheriff’s and fire departments, $1.5 million to complete the Miracle League field for special needs kids, renovations at the animal shelter, a new fire station, and $8.5 million for county debt service.

Debt service on existing facilities has to be paid to maintain our superior credit rating, a critical factor to our ability to recruit and retain industry that at the end of the day spells j-o-b-s.

Then there are items specific to various cities in the county, just over $10 million of the total. Those projects include transportation, water system improvements, airport funding, recreation and historic preservation.

Some folks are looking askance at a couple of items on the county’s list proposed as totally new construction by three commissioners: $1.1 million for an agricultural youth facility and another $1.1 million in extras specifically for one district.

They’re even vowing to vote no on the whole shebang because of these two items, when about 97 percent of the entire list of SPLOST projects falls into the "must-do" category.

In all honesty, I was there, until I looked at the consequences of voting down a measly one penny in protest.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

If the SPLOST fails, those lost funds for "have-to" needs must come from the county’s general fund.And if the money isn’t there, guess where the county will go to get those funds?

If you guessed "increased property taxes," you’re right. No if’s, and’s or but’s.

What’s great about a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is that it’s a consumer tax shared with anyone from outside the county who comes to eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores or buy gas as they’re passing through.

When it comes to taxes, it can’t get any sweeter than that.

In this economy, the word "tax" raises a red flag to some folks.

This SPLOST is not a new tax, but only continuing the one penny we’ve imposed on ourselves since 1987.

We won’t be creating any new tax burden, but that one penny can have a pretty significant impact on the place we live when all of us, along with visitors to our county, pitch one into the pot each time we make a purchase.

Think about all those pennies loose in dresser trays or gathering dust in coin jars or lost between the car seats.

Let’s keep those pennies working for our county.

I’m voting "yes" on the SPLOST, and if you agree, you can even go vote today.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.

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