Why I sup­port SPLOST

The Covington News - - OPINION - To the ed­i­tor: Philip A. John­son, Covington

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.

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