To the editor:
Almost 40 years ago, Chair Roy Varner and I, a young representative, campaigned for a yes vote on a referendum for a Local Option Sales Tax. Prior to the local one cent sales tax, most county and municipal revenue came from property tax.
The passage of the local one-cent sales tax was far from assured. Local merchants uniformly opposed the sales tax fearing it would put them at a competitive disadvantage with merchants from counties without the sales tax. In the end, Newton County passed the Local Option Sales Tax.
The current Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) is the outgrowth of that goal we debated in the 1970’s which was the need for an adjunct to property tax to fund local government. Passed in Newton County in 1986, SPLOST has become our only reliable source to fund capital needs. While the property tax digest contracted during the Great Recession, sales tax continued.
It is with disappointment that I hear from many that they are voting “No” on SPLOST on March 21. The reasons cited are they don’t trust the Board, they don’t like the process or every project selected or they want to punish the Board for something it did or didn’t do.
Newton County has benefitted from SPLOST since 1986. With the sales tax revenues of SPLOST, Newton County has helped fund the Cornish Creek Reservoir, the Judicial Building, the Turner Lake Complex, the Library, Washington Street Community Centers, the Jail, the Historic Courthouse Renovation, the Public Health and Mental Health facility, fire stations and equipment, the Performing Arts Center, the Emergency 911 Center, hundreds of miles of roads and other projects too numerous to recount.
Likewise, the five municipalities in Newton County have all participated in the revenue generated by the one cent sales tax to pave roads, build facilities, maintain and extend water and sewer service and construct recreational facilities.
I reviewed the projects included in the 2017 SPLOST, and I must admit that I would have made some different selections. What I found, however, when I categorized the projects of the County and the cities is that over 85 percent of the funds are allocated to Infrastructure, Public Works, Debt Payment and Public Safety. The remaining 15 percent is spread over Recreation, Social Services, Library, Economic Development and Facilities.
This vote is not about ratifying all the actions of the Board or giving your assent to every single project that was selected. It is an up or down vote on continuing a one cent sales tax which has funded many vital projects of our county and cities for the last 31 years. The overwhelming majority of the allocations are for the projects which touch us most directly – making our roads safe and functional, maintaining our water and sewer, keeping us safe and servicing our debt. Don’t let the short-term gratification of making a statement about our elected officials get in the way of the long-term goal of making our community functional and livable.
Philip A. Johnson