Last fall, the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) appointed a 23-person citizens' committee to hear information about potential SPLOST projects. The committee was charged with making a recommendation of which projects to fund and how to allocate the county's $50 million share of SPLOST to those projects. The committee held six public meetings, during which it gathered information, prioritized projects, and voted on amounts to fund the projects. The information was then given to the BOC for it to review and make the final list to be included in the referendum. The BOC voted on that list in its November meeting.
Because this issue is so vital to our community, members of the citizens' committee, along with citizens at large and concerned local businesses, have formed and funded an organization to disseminate information on this SPLOST and to urge Newton County residents to support its passage. It is called “Vote Yes For Continued SPLOST Success.” You may have seen the website or its Facebook page. I hope you have.
Local option sales taxes have a 50 year history in Newton County, the first being passed in the late 60's. Since then, Newton citizens have never voted down a local option sales tax referendum. State law prescribes with great specificity how these optional consumption taxes must be used. In the case of the SPLOST, state law outlines exactly what sort of projects may be funded, the formulas for accumulating and distributing the funding, and the mandate that projects listed in the SPLOST referendum are the only projects that may receive SPLOST funds.
Some are making this vote a referendum on the former BOC and decisions it made. My personal take is that we had that referendum last year at our polling places, electing two new commissioners and a new chairman. An important point to consider is that the defeat of this SPLOST will financially handcuff this new BOC, and we will see more governing from one economic crisis to the next. They are already starting with a budget that has been cut 30% since 2008. That is not a scare tactic folks. It is reality. I am not dismissing displeasure with past BOC actions, as there is good cause for it. However, voting against SPLOST is not the right way to express this displeasure. A vote against SPLOST is a vote against the current BOC not the former, and as you will see in the next paragraph, it is a vote against our mayors, the residents of the cities they lead, and indeed, every Newton County citizen.
This SPLOST is estimated to generate approximate $65 million, with the money being split between the county and our municipalities - about $50 million and $15 million, respectively. If one were to total the amounts included for the paying of debt and the infrastructure, public safety, and public works projects the county and cities will pursue, the figure comes to 86 percent of that $65 million. What that means is that almost all the SPLOST monies will be spent on projects that have a broad-based impact.
I mentioned in an earlier article that the sales tax is the fairest of taxes, and one advantage is that the revenue comes from everyone who spends money on retail or usage (hotel stays, rental of goods) in our county. Last year, tourists spent $120 million in Newton County. One percent of that is $1.2 million or almost 10 percent of the total estimated SPLOST collections each year.
I just can't think of one good reason to vote no to SPLOST.
Baxter Bouchillon is the chairman of the 2017 Newton County SPLOST Committee.