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SPLOST passes with 54 percent of vote
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The 2011 SPLOST has passed and Newton County's sales tax rate will remain at 7 percent for at least the next couple of years.

The special local option sales tax was approved by 53.94 percent of voters, with 2,168 "Yes" votes and 1,851 "No" votes.

Supporters and detractors of SPLOST waged a war of words in the media, but the SPLOST passed once again, though the result was the closest it's been in a decade. As in 2005, turnout was low, around 7 percent, likely depressed a bit by the morning rain.

"I'm glad it passed; I think it's good for our community," SPLOST committee co-chairman Billy Fortson said after the results were in. "The fact we had transportation, the hospital and debt reduction on there made the difference. Most people who voted for the SPLOST were for those three things."

The 1 percent SPLOST is budgeted to bring in $57.6 million in revenue over the next six years. The largest projects include $25 million for around 80 road projects, $8.5 million to pay county debt, $7 million for a judicial center expansion, $4 million for a hospital emergency room expansion and $2.5 million for new county vehicles.

The 2011 SPLOST is Newton County's fifth iteration of the tax; the first SPLOST was passed in 1987 to pay for the creation of the Lake Varner reservoir. The 2011 SPLOST will begin to be collected on July 1 when the 2005 SPLOST expires. Merchants and consumers will not notice any change. The 2011 SPLOST will end on June 30, 2017.

The SPLOST committee formed by the county likely played a key role in this year's passage, as they spoke to civic groups, distributed literature and placed signs around the county advocating for the continuation of the tax.

While some residents were opposed to the tax, an opposition movement was never organized, though Forrest Sawyer Jr. and others spread vote "No" to SPLOST fliers on Sunday and early this week.

"I don't really know what to say other than if that's what the people want, then that's what the people are going to get," said Sam M. Hay III, who actively opposed the SPLOST. "The fact the vote was so close should send a message to government officials that they don't really have the confidence and free reign in this county they used to have."

The next SPLOST will come up for a vote in the spring of 2017.