This letter is intended to correct some points and rebut others made by Mr. (Larry) McSwain in his letter to The Covington News last week. Before I do that, let me say I agree with him completely that voters must take the opportunity to vote seriously and educate themselves on candidates and ballot questions. I believe when it comes to SPLOST, most reasonable people who do so will vote in favor of continuing it.
One question he asked was whether funds will be spent as presented on the ballot. This is required by law. Our leaders must spend the monies collected on the projects as listed — because that is what the voters approved. Even if the amount allotted on the ballot isn’t enough, the project must be undertaken.
Let’s take an example from the 2017 SPLOST. Our county’s (animal) shelter was in a state where it could’ve been shut down by the state at any moment. Repairs and upgrades had to be made. With the help of a project manager, the amount included on the list was used to get the facility to compliance and done in such a way that future funds could make it a reflection of how this county’s residents truly feel about their pets. Should the committee have left it off the list because it knew the amount was lacking? No. This is evidenced by the drastic increase in adoption rate and subsequent decrease in euthanasia rate since making improvements. Another item in his letter was excess SPLOST collections. Some of the excess funds for the 2017 SPLOST, which were unforeseen, and indeed quite a blessing, were recommended by the citizens committee to be used to complete 2017 projects. Once all SPLOST projects are completed, any other excess funds collected must be used to reduce debt, and if there is no debt, to reduce property taxes. Excess funds cannot, however, be moved to the next SPLOST’s projects, as was suggested.
Lastly, when the committee developed the 2017 list, it did use estimates. There were 25 committee members who had about six weeks to cull $100 million in requests to a projected $64 million in collections. This year, the committee again used estimates. How else can projected costs be derived? Our committee is open to suggestions. All meetings are open to the public, and there were at least 10 this year.
Moving on, having more time than in 2016, the committee was better able to solicit current costs and make sure those figures more accurately represent the scope of work for each project. It is a good list. It will positively impact all Newton citizens. In fact, about 60% of the 2023 list before you on the ballot is for “obviously needed things” — transportation, government building renovation and public safety expenditures.
The SPLOST is the fairest of the taxes we pay and is funded daily by the 14,000 or so from outside the county who come here to work every day, by the tens of millions of dollars spent by tourists who visit each year, and by all our residents — homeowners, renters, business owners and their children. It has been instrumental in our county’s continuous growth and improvement since it was first allowed in 1986. Just visit www.newtonsplost.com for proof. And vote yes Nov. 8 to continue its long streak of success.
Baxter Bouchillon, chairman
Newton County SPLOST Oversight Committee