VALDOSTA -- The few Lowndes County voters who participated in Tuesday's primary election overwhelmingly approved a five-year extension of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

Only 15 percent of the county's 48,295 registered voters went to the polls -- perhaps because many of the Democratic races were unopposed -- but 71 percent supported an extension of the SPLOST.

Valdosta Mayor James Rainwater praised the efforts of the SPLOST V Committee, and called the extension of the 1-cent sales tax which is expected to generate $110 million for county municipalities "Christmas in August."

"This is going to give us the necessary money to continue to provide the infrastructure at such a reduced cost. There's no way we could do it with the tax base, and we wouldn't want to do it like that," he said. "The committee has done an excellent job in putting this together and pulling everybody together, getting the facts out and that's what it takes. It's Christmas in August for us."

Rainwater said SPLOST gives cities and counties much more latitude in determining how an area will grow and develop.

"I am very excited. ... It just gives us the opportunity to continue to grow. The thing that I kept telling people is that we're going to grow anyway. It's a question of how we want to grow and do we have the money to grow the way we need to," he said.

Tuesday's vote was a marked change from 1997 when SPLOST IV passed by a scant 200 votes. County Manager Joe Pritchard attributed the voting shift to public approval of the SPLOST project list that was heavy on infrastructure improvements such as water and sewer, but lighter on the capital building projects that dominated the previous SPLOST.

"I think that you go back to those basics (such as infrastructure improvements) and not necessarily those capital programs, I think that had a big effect," he said.

SPLOST V Committee Chairman Crawford Powell said the visibility of past SPLOST projects such as the Senior Citizens Center, the Conference Center and numerous streets and bridges helped convince voters that extending the tax was worthwhile.

"I think people just realized how much SPLOST has done for this community," Powell said. "For a long, long time we didn't have the revenue or the resources in this part of the state to do and provide the services we need for the people. I feel like people have been able to look around and say roads are being paved, bridges are being built, conference centers are being built, fire trucks are being bought. There are just a huge list of things that have been done in this community. People appreciate that we are where we should have been 10 or 15 years ago, and now we've got a revenue source to do that with."

Valdosta and Lowndes County will split roughly $90 million of projected SPLOST revenues, with the remaining $20 million being split between the cities of Remerton, Dasher, Lake Park and Hahira as well as the Airport and Industrial authorities.

On Tuesday, 4,968 residents voted for SPLOST, while 2,014 voted against it. All 32 precincts favored extending SPLOST, as did absentee ballot totals. In 1997, city precincts carried the SPLOST vote, as all but one precinct outside of Valdosta voted against the tax.

Lowndes County Commission Chairman Rod Casey said he was not concerned about poor voter turnout, noting that those who do vote in offyear, primary elections are generally more informed about the issues and more active in the political process.

"Primary voters are hardcore voters They are generally much more well informed because they keep up with the paper, they keep up with the news, they keep up with current events. And the more informed you are, the more likely you are to vote for the SPLOST tax," he said.

A SPLOST extension also fared well in Lanier County, where voters approved the tax 410-215.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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