Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mixed feelings on the SPLOST? Hmmm....

I attended the city / county SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) meeting Monday night, filmed it, posted it on the Fayette Front Page, wrote a short synopsis... and have continued to mull over the issue off and on as I edited and typed.

The County Commission and City Mayors are in agreement that they will be asking voters to approve a six-year extension of a one-cent sales tax on November 3rd. Currently we are adding two cents on each dollar spent in the county for the SPLOST in question and a fairly recently approved school SPLOST. The SPLOST the Commission and Mayors are asking us to extend is scheduled to expire March 31st 2010.

The County is proposing that their portion of the tax dollars collected be used in four areas:
1. Justice Center Acquisition, $50 million
2. Emergency OPS Center, $2 million
3. University Campus, $5 million
4. Transportation, $15 million

I'm not really sure yet how I'll vote, but I'd say I'm probably leaning toward a no vote. I'm sure many will vote yes. I've talked to maybe ten to 15 people since the meeting ended Monday night and, if their current voting choices are any indication, thus far it looks like it's a toss up as to which way the wind will blow on November 3rd. Of course, a chunk of those I talk with are in elected office, so that kind of skewed my random sampling!

Here's some of my thought process on the County's proposed project list and the SPLOST in general:

In part I think it's OK that the Commissioners are willing to hold out a carrot in front of our noses by saying they'd "seriously consider" and "would propose" doubling the homestead exemption if the SPLOST renewal is approved.

It would help offset some of the additional 1 cent tax we'd pay throughout the year when shopping in the county if they ultimately decide to give us that break.

Unfortunately, even if they consider, propose and decide to give us the carrot, it would have to be an annual vote since the current Commissioners can't obligate future Boards. I can pretty much bet that we won't get to chomp on that particular carrot every year during the 6-year SPLOST term. After all, who knows which way the economy will go, what will change and what future Board members will think about the idea?

While I'll definitely be happy to take advantage of the double homestead exemption if the SPLOST passes, and if the Commission chooses to give us back some of our tax dollars, I still think I'd rather pay less when I shop.

The idea of paying down the debt on the Justice Center isn't something that gets me all excited.

I see the point in paying it off. I really do. I'm all for eliminating the roughly $3.7 million annual payment for the Center. But am I willing to shell out an extra penny on every dollar I spend for the next five to six years so they can do it now? Especially when I'm doing double-duty trying to conserve every penny I can to adjust for the current economic problems?

I wonder what the Commission will do with the $3.7 million savings they'd realize... Once we buy the Center for $50 million the county will then have those additional funds to spend. They're going to "seriously consider" giving some of our tax dollars back to us in the form of the double homestead exemption, but what about the rest of the money?

I'm sure those extra dollars are needed by the county, especially in this economy. I don't have a problem with adding money to the County coffers. I'm just curious as to whether there's a specific plan for those additional dollars. And given a choice between having my tax dollars sitting in the county's coffers and in my bank account... no brainer.

Another thought on paying off the bond / lease for the Justice Center: $3.7 million in today's dollars versus a one-time current dollar value payment of $50 million is one thing. But $3.7 million five years, ten years, etc. from now could equate to a payment of $1 million in later-year dollar value. I am horrible, absolutely horrible, when it comes to math and devaluing money and all that mess so that might not even be something to take into consideration when making a decision as to the justification for paying an additional penny on the dollar for the next six years to buy the Center. Commissioner Smith is an accountant so I have to assume that he's taken that all into consideration.

I look at paying off the Justice Center the same way I'd look at paying off my house. There are a lot of variables and it's something I'd have to look at from a lot of angles.

I don't see the need for the Emergency Operations Center but in the scheme of things the $2 million they say that's need to build it is a pittance. It's not a show-stopper for me though given the other items the County has on their project list. If it were the only thing, it'd be a definite no.

I see absolutely no need to put money into buying up land or doing whatever it is the County proposes to do with the $5 million they've allocated in SPLOST dollars to entice a university or technical college to move to Fayette County.

I hope that someday we will have a college campus with a thriving student base in the county. However, I'm not interested in using tax dollars to entice a college to set up a campus within county lines to attract more industry to the county, which is the reason Smith gave for wanting to have a college in the county.

If it's true that companies aren't moving to the county because we don't have a college that's fine with me. I'm one of those put a moat around the county and pull up the drawbridge types. I don't want to be like other counties. I want to be Fayette, the jewel in the midst of crowded, industry heavy Atlanta metro counties.

I could be wrong, I have nothing to base my feelings on other than, well, feelings, but I really can't see a company deciding not to come to Fayette because we don't have a college campus inside the defined boundaries of the county. There are lots of colleges within easy driving distance.

Again, great to have a campus and I know it's something the business community is itching to have happen, but it's just not something that makes me want to open my already-squeaking wallet a bit further.

Transportation and road construction IS something I'd have been willing to spend an extra penny on in times past. However, after watching what the County Commission has done with the so-called "West Bypass", and with what they've done to homes in the Sandy Creek area, and the dollars we've entrusted them with over the past few years, I don't think I want to give them more money to tear up the county. New Commission, maybe I'd reconsider.

Well, this is interesting. I started writing with the idea that I wasn't really settled on whether I'd be voting yeah or nay regarding the SPLOST. But as I put my thoughts into words for this blog, I realized I don't see any good reason to vote yes.

OK, there's one that might make me punch yes if I lived in one of the cities (which I don't)... The cities appear to be willing to spend the vast majority of their dollar allocations on transportation projects such as resurfacing roads, fixing bad intersections, etc. If I lived in Peachtree City, Fayetteville or Tyrone I might, just might, vote yes.

In fact, I think the fact that the cities are going to focus on transportation needs might entice voters in their respective jurisdictions to vote yes. If the majority of voters in each of the cities vote yes that will probably mean an overall yes for the 6-year tax renewal.

Personally, I think Commissioner Smith may be wrong when he says it's harder to renew a transportation SPLOST than one project laden (to paraphrase his comments at the SPLOST meeting). I think improving roads, making it easier to travel from point A to B, and similar projects are what voters are willing to pay for... unless there's some sexy, compelling project that voters see an overwhelming need to complete.

But hey, this is a blog, there's nothing scientific about it and I haven't gone out and done the research... who knows, maybe everyone will jump to continue paying an additional tax to buy the Justice Center, build an Emergency OPS Center or plunk a college into our midst.

Another thing that may help pass the SPLOST is the passivity of Fayette County voters. There were only 3 - 5 people at the SPLOST meeting who weren't reporters, elected officials or county employees. There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of involvement from the general population, which may make it easier to sell them on one aspect of the SPLOST or paint a pretty picture that leads 'em to touch yes instead of no.

Unless the project list changes (and it could change as what we saw Monday evening was just a proposal) I'm voting no. I bet that doesn't surprise most of my readers!

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