Fewer than 50 people turned out last Wednesday morning (Aug. 18) for the first of several “town hall meetings” promoting the Nov. 2 passage of the special purpose local option sales tax.
Virtually all of the attendees were representatives of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, which is leading the promotional effort, or the county and municipal governments that would spend the proceeds of the fifth round of the sales tax.
At stake is $47.5 million to be collected over six years if the referendum passes. Jackson County also collects a one-cent local option sales tax (LOST) that is permanent and a one-cent education sales tax that is subject to periodic voter renewal.
The chamber and a political action committee it created called “Citizens for a Better Jackson County” intend to hold meetings in every town in the county in support of the tax. Keith Ariail, Commerce, chairs the Citizens for a Better Jackson County. He is also a director of the chamber.
Chamber president Shane Short used slides to illustrate several points that will likely be repeated in all of the town hall meetings:
•that past SPLOSTs have been well spent
•local governments have extensive capital needs
•a failure to pass the SPLOST will lead to an increase in property taxes
•a sales tax is a “fair” tax because everyone pays it equally
•an estimated 40 percent of the tax will be paid by people from outside the county who shop in Jackson
•a system of accountability will be instituted to make sure all SPLOST money is spent as promised
Short’s presentation touched briefly on what the current SPLOST 4 tax accomplished. Thus far 86.4 percent of the projected revenue has been received, Short said. He pointed out that the county’s portion helped pay off the jail, build a health clinic in Commerce, pay for road and recreation projects, build the new fire training facility, support local libraries and lay miles of county water lines.
That tax will expire June 30. If voters pass the Nov. 2 referendum, SPLOST 5 will begin July 1.
Short also went into some detail as to how each of the governments plans to spend its portion of SPLOST 5. Jackson County, for example, will spend 70 percent of its $33.7 million share to pay off the debt on the jail. It would also build two satellite EMS buildings (in Commerce and Braselton), finance road improvements and pay for land for a new county park.
Each of the cities also has a laundry list of projects on which they’d like to spend SPLOST dollars.
But in addition to what the tax would do, Short also offered two other reasons to support the tax: it’s paid in part by nonresidents and without the tax a property tax increase is likely.
He cited “some estimates” showing that up to 40 percent of the sales tax would be paid by nonresidents.
“If that is true, $19 million will be paid by people from outside the county,” Short said.
And, if the referendum fails, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners “may have no choice but to raise taxes,” he added, observing, “The money has to come from somewhere.”
According to Short, the payment on the jail debt equates to 1.72 mills of taxes - an increase of $101.82 for someone with a $150,000 piece of property.
“There really is not a good option for us at this time,” Short said. “We would hate to take that money that is much needed for these projects, especially the jail debt alone, and roll it back into the general fund. And what happens is when we got a large pool of people helping pay for some of current projects, we’ve got a smaller pool of people that would have to pay for it (if SPLOST fails) and that is the property owners of Jackson County. I don’t think that burden is a good burden to put on the property owners of Jackson County.”
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