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Posted: February 19, 2017 5:00 a.m.

Bouchillon: SPLOST: ‘It is not a tax increase’

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SPLOST is an acronym for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. It is a program whereby counties can add one penny per dollar spent by consumers within its borders to help fund projects specifically allowed by state law. It is optional, meaning not mandatory. Each county has to propose a list of projects, and the county residents get to vote whether to agree to this one penny sales tax. It is temporary - collected for five-year periods for the projects specified, then the county proposes a new list and asks its residents to vote yes or no to continue the penny sales tax.

I am unashamedly for the 2017 SPLOST resolution and will vote yes for it on March 21 for three primary reasons. The SPLOST is fair. The SPLOST is local. And the SPLOST is a continuation of the penny sales tax that is already in place and has been in place for at least the last 20 years. Therefore, it is not a tax increase.

The SPLOST is fair. Think about what taxes we pay and who pays each type. Now think about sales tax and who pays that. Anyone who spends money pays the sales tax. It doesn't matter if all their income is cash. It doesn't matter if they own a car. It doesn't matter if they own a business or if they own a house. It doesn't even matter if they live in our county, much less our state or even our country (my exchange students and their families leap to mind). If they spend money in Newton County, they pay sales tax. Therefore, "they", whoever they happen to be, help fund Newton County's SPLOST.

The SPLOST is local. SPLOST is defined by state law, and by definition, SPLOST is local. The penny per dollar that "they" spend here in Newton County, stays here in Newton County. The pennies collected, and they add up - it is anticipated that the county's share over the next five years to be about $50 million and the municipalities about $16 million - are spent on Newton County projects, having a direct, visible impact on Newton County citizens and their quality of life. Past SPLOSTs have funded a new jail, a new county administrative building, a beautiful civic center, a judicial center, restoring our historic courthouse, and created and maintained parks for our residents and visitors to enjoy.

This SPLOST is a continuation of the current penny sales tax and NOT a tax increase. Voting yes for this SPLOST will not put any one of Newton County's citizens in a financial situation less favorable than that in which they stand currently. Voting no, however, could, and probably will pave the way for an increase in property taxes and any other revenue generating mechanisms the county already has in place or worse, has not yet even contemplated bringing to bear on us as county residents.

I have heard people say that SPLOST just pays for pork projects to make our commissioners look good. I have also heard people say we should vote against SPLOST because our Board of Commissioners has managed our county poorly (i.e. making them and us look bad), and we should send them a message. It's usually the same folks saying both things, which is a little confusing to me. I mean does the BOC look good or look bad? Never mind, don't answer that.

Some SPLOST opponents have called our community supported projects "pork"; SPLOST stands for "SPECIAL PURPOSE", not "SPECIAL PORK". The fact is that citizens were involved in creating this SPLOST project list and will continue to have input into its implementation. These "SPECIAL PURPOSE" projects have a broad appeal and impact for everyone in Newton County, not just one politician. Case in point - a top priority project in SPLOST this time is to provide our 911 operation new communication equipment so that there are no longer ANY areas of the county where our police officers cannot speak with each other (i.e. dead spots, and yes the pun is intended). Can you think of one house in our county where it would be acceptable for an officer to not be able to communicate with others in public safety who are trying to keep him or the residents of said house safe? I cannot!

It's no secret our county has had a very bumpy few years or that we have had, frankly speaking, more than our share of embarrassing moments. However, I would point out that we have had some, albeit slow, incremental change and we now stand at a crossroad with a decision to make. With the long-time county attorney gone, two new commissioners, and a new chairman, do we: A. Send a message to their replacements that hey, we didn't like what your predecessors did, so we are going to tie your hands and see what kind of financial Houdinis you are OR B. Vote yes for the SPLOST and get projects and badly-needed equipment funded in a FAIR way? I already told you how I will be voting because it’s fair, local, and a continuation of what we are already doing to take care of ourselves. I hope all Newton County residents who read this letter will join me and Vote Yes for Continued SPLOST Success March 21st, 2017.

For more detailed information on the 2017 SPLOST project list and how it was guided by a citizen committee, please visit www.voteyessplost.org.

Baxter Bouchillon is the chairman of the 2017 Newton County SPLOST Committee.

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