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Newton County waiting on Mansfield decision before sending TSPLOST to voters
Five-year collection for transportation projects estimated to drop by 25% without city support for Nov. 3 referendum

Newton County commissioners will wait until Thursday night to see if one city’s elected leaders have changed their minds about being part of a sales tax referendum that could produce millions for transportation projects.

Mansfield City Council has scheduled a Thursday special called meeting at 5 p.m. and Newton County Commission planned a meeting for 6 p.m. to discuss a proposed Nov. 3 referendum on a new 1% sales tax that could raise $56 million over five years.

Money generated by the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) could only be used for transportation projects in Newton County’s six cities and its unincorporated area. 

The money would be shared using an agreed formula based generally on population that has been used with other sales tax collections, officials said.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr said the county and the five other cities agreed to more than double Mansfield’s final share to $800,000 — with the extra money coming from the county’s share — to help convince Mansfield’s city council to reconsider a Monday vote not to participate.

Kerr said the county commission must approve the request for a referendum by Thursday to meet an elections board deadline for placing it on the Nov. 3 ballot.

“We’re on a very tight timeline,” Kerr said. 

Commissioners were scheduled at their regular meeting Tuesday, July 21, to approve the plan. However, they learned Mansfield City Council on Monday, July 20, voted 3-1 against being part of an intergovernmental agreement.

Mansfield Mayor G.W. Davis said council members had concerns Monday about voting for what could be an additional sales tax during a time of economic uncertainty related to the coronavirus pandemic.

If approved, those shopping in Newton County would pay a total of 8% sales tax, including the 1% TSPLOST, 1% SPLOST, 1% Local Option Sales Tax, 1% Education SPLOST, and a 4% state sales tax.

“It’s a tough decision anytime you want to raise taxes,” Davis said.

“We have a good city council and they take their jobs very seriously,” the mayor said. “This is not something they took lightly.” 

To impose a 1% TSPLOST, state law required all six cities within Newton County to be part of an intergovernmental agreement to share in the proceeds and pay for transportation projects they publicly specified. 

However, without all cities participating the referendum could only call for a 0.75% sales tax — cutting the amount of money collected by 25% to $42 million over five years.

It also likely could decrease some cities’ shares dramatically, Kerr said. State law specifies the funds be divided based on each city’s past transportation spending as a percentage of the same spending by all participants. 

Davis said he hoped other Mansfield council members could see they are benefiting both their small city and the county as a whole by participating. The city’s share would increase from $363,000 to $800,000.

 “Obviously, it’s a benefit to the citizens of Mansfield,” Davis said. “I’m hoping they can see the value to the citizens of the entire county as well.”