The Valdosta Daily Times
The SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) committee kicked off their campaign for the SPLOST VII on Friday morning.
Suzan Prince, SPLOST VII chairperson, handed out binders containing the financial breakdown of where the SPLOST VII tax revenue will be spent. As the computer that contained the Powerpoint booted up, everyone engaged in light conversation. However once the presentation began, the mood quickly shifted to serious.
People who attend the event consisted mostly of current and former leaders from Lowndes County and from the Cities of Hahira and Valdosta, and a hand full of concerned residents.
Prince gave the presentation of SPLOST VII with full enthusiasm, beginning with how she grew up in Nashville and there was not much to do there. “Town” for them was Valdosta. Since she first moved to Valdosta, she has been involved in improving the city.
Prince stated, “SPLOST has been improving the City one penny at a time.” Taking pride in her community, Prince said, “Yes” to SPLOST VII.
Stating that it is a “fair tax,” Prince claimed that it is not only a tax on Lowndes County, it is a tax on everyone who enters the community, which would lessen the burden of the taxes that will have to be collected to pay for necessary repairs. At least 50 percent of the taxes collected by the SPLOST come from non-residents.
To ease concerns of frivolous spending, Prince said that funds collected by SPLOST are set aside for an identified capital project. They do not go into a general account for Lowndes County and the cities within. The funds have to be spent on the specified projects. The county and all of the cities within examined their infrastructure, equipment, and buildings, then put a price to the projects they deemed necessary, with the funds they were allocated.
Regarding the failed SPLOST from 2012, Valdosta Mayor John Gayle said, “We saw what the voters said, and the Performance Arts Center was not what a lot of people wanted, didn’t think it was necessary, didn’t think Five Points was a viable option.”
Breaking down the numbers, Gayle said, “The basic things that changed are we did away with $20 million for the Performance Arts Center, and added that to wastewater treatment.”
The City had some money in the last SPLOST for wastewater treatment and sewer, but they were hoping for the FEMA grant for the $55 million project. FEMA denied the application and subsequent appeals in 2012.
A MOST tax is an option to fix the wastewater treatment problems, but that would only help the City. Lowndes County faces water and sewer issues too, about $20 million worth, that need to be addressed.
Prince said, “So it makes more since for us to come together as a community, like the city and county has, and say, ‘Hey, we’ve identified these problems, and we need to work together to fix them.’ So we as a community, now it’s our responsibility to come together and make this happen.”
From 1990 to 2012, Lowndes County has added nearly 39,000 residents. With this growth came jobs. Prince’s powerpoint stated that the previous SPLOSTs helped fund the improvements to the infrastructure which attracted new businesses to the community.
James McGahee discussed the impact of SPLOST on the average resident. He said it is inevitable that some people will spend more money and be taxed more, and some people will spend less money and be taxed less. Continuing, McGahee said, if you look at a married couple earning $42,000 a year, most of their taxes will come from the federal government. The SPLOST will only tax them on taxable items they purchase. This adds up to about $200 a year that family will contribute to the SPLOST. McGahee said that he sees SPLOST as an investment, and he has seen what happens to a community that does not put money into infrastructure.
“They stagnate, and they don’t grow. This money will stay in Valdosta, and local leaders have a say in how it is spent.”
SPLOST I – VI (1987 to 2013) earned $436 million. Of that, 59.19 percent is responsible for the development on Norman Drive and Inner Perimeter Rd., and Streetscape projects that revitalized Downtown Valdosta and Hahira which has drawn in businesses. Another 14.3 percent went to improve and expand the Lowndes County Jail facilities under the Public Safety and Equipment projects, along with new fire stations and equipment for and improvements to the sheriff and police departments. Nearly 12 percent went to Parks and Recreation, and 3.75 percent built the new judicial complex and the new airport.
The new SPLOST VII differs from the last SPLOST VII referendum in 2012 in that it is focused on basic needs. For example, seven bridges in Lowndes County are in desperate need of repair.
Lowndes County Commission Chairman Bill Slaughter was asked to interject, and stated that the county has to reduce the weight limits on these bridges because of their conditions. In the future, this will cause school buses, etc. to reroute away from the bridges in question if they are not repaired.
Prince stated that one of the proposed projects from SPLOST VII is a sidewalk from JL Newbern Middle School to North Forrest Street. She said it is a very busy area, and some of the children walk to school.
“All it will take is one child, one child, and if you’re the person who kills the child, then you’ll have to live with that,” Prince continued.
Mayor Gayle said it is important to keep in mind that some of the projects proposed in SPLOST VII will be done regardless if the SPLOST passes.
“We may have to borrow from GEMA, or bonds, which is expensive. You can either pay for it as you go through the SPLOST proceeds or revenues, or you can pay for it, then pay the interest on top of it.”
Gayle wrapped up by saying SPLOST would share the burden.
The percentages of the distribution breaks down as follows: 52 percent Water and Sewer infrastructure and equipment; 25 percent Roads, Bridges, Sidewalks, and Drainage; 13 percent Public Safety Facilities and Equipment; 5 percent Parks and Recreation Facilities & Equipment; 3 percent Public Works Facilities and Equipment; 1 percent Government Facilities and Equipment; and 1 percent Court Facilities and Equipment.