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Heated forum on SPLOST held by SRCA
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Residents voiced concerns about the projects chosen and citizen oversight of the next round of proposed Special Local Option Sales Tax projects during heated discussion at the South Rockdale Civic Association's May meeting.

The latest proposed SPLOST, or 1 percent sales tax, is projected to raise about $75 million and will be on the ballot for July 20.

"SPLOST is one of the few taxes where you decide whether you have that tax or not," said Fred Straub, a member of the SPLOST Oversight Committee. "You have much more control over what happens with these dollars than you do for the normal tax purposes."

As for the track record of previous SPLOSTS, Straub said, "Every SPLOST has done what we said we were going to do.:

The driving goal of this year's SPLOST list was to have projects that would not add to the operations and maintenance costs of the county, said Straub.

Mike Hilleboe, currently chair of the SPLOST oversight committee, said that about 30 to 40 percent of SPLOST funds come from residents living outside the county. An audience member pointed out that the SPLOST was a way for renters and non-property owning residents to pay their share of taxes.

Attendees raised concerns over the selection of the projects, with several saying more should emphasis should have been on water, sewer, and transportation projects instead of parks and recreation projects, the senior center, and projects such as installing sidewalks.

"Yes, they're good," said Eleanor Meyer, "but when you have people who have no jobs, you need to cut back and I don't feel our county is doing that... I don't feel this SPLOST is a reflection on what needs to be happening at this point in our county."

"Fixing what's underground is not a sexy project," said resident Ed Tracey, "but it's the lifeblood of the county."

Straub agreed, adding that the county fought commercial development for a long time while surrounding counties grew up and realized there was revenue to be made in inviting commercial growth.

However, he pointed out the political reality of getting approval for this round of SPLOST. "People with kids and senior citizens vote," he said. "In the real world of life, we need every vote."

Attendees were also concerned about who would be on the oversight committee.

Resident Don Meyer voiced frustration with the lack of resident input into the process, calling the Feb. 25 SPLOST public meeting a "dog and pony show."

Straub pointed out that the committee is made up of volunteers appointed by the Board of Commissioners and that there would be an oversight board for this round of SPLOST as well. He encouraged residents to volunteer for being on the committee.

"I liked SPLOST when we had it last. But things are different," said resident Herb Parker.

"The bigger picture is we need this continued effort to push this county forward," said Hilleboe. "There's more danger in not doing it."
Voters have approved SPLOSTs since 1987, the county's first SPLOST, which was approved to fund the building of the Nancy Guinn Memorial Library. Voters also approved a SPLOST in 1989 to fund a drinking water reservoir, in 1992 and 1996 for transportation improvements, in 1996 for the Johnson Park Recreation Complex and a water treatment plant, and other water system improvements in 1999. The 2003 SPLOST was voted down after the county's purchase of property along Parker Road.
The current SPLOST, approved in 2004, was originally projected at $99 million but is now projected to finish about $4 million to $6 million short of the projection and will end in March of 2011. It was approved to fund the jail expansion, construction of new fire stations, tennis center, expansion of the Senior Service Center, and renovation of the library.
The next SRCA will host a local candidate's forum on June 15, 7 p.m., at United Methodist Church, 4600 Union Church Road, on the corner of Ga. Highway 138 and Union Church Road. For more information, call 770.474.9128