A deeper explanation of our SPLOST

Guest Column by Monroe City Administrator Logan Propes

HISTORY & BACKGROUND

Coming up on the May 21st election ballot will be a renewal of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, better known as SPLOST. For some background, there are currently three one-penny-per-dollar sales taxes in Walton County that are on top of the State of Georgia’s four-pennies-per-dollar sales tax. Two of these sales taxes are voted on by the citizens; the SPLOST and the E-SPLOST (an Education SPLOST that goes only to the local Boards of Education).

By law the regular SPLOST referendum is called for by the County Board of Commissioners and then a negotiation of the split of proceeds amongst the municipalities is completed with an intergovernmental agreement.

The SPLOST before voters this year is for a six-year continuation of the tax and is expected to raise $120 million countywide over the period. Each jurisdiction creates a project list or project category list. SPLOST can only be spent on capital projects, NOT operations. Other local funds such as property taxes and user fees are used for operations.

Some folks ask me what governments did to fund capital projects before SPLOST. My reply is usually “not much.” SPLOST in Georgia has been around since 1985 to create a funding mechanism to accomplish infrastructure and other capital needs that would normally be well out of reach being paid for by property taxes alone. Sometimes, long-term bonds were and are used but these are still subject to repayment from property taxes or utility fees.

SPLOST AT WORK

Over the years, needs have grown in Georgia’s communities to ensure infrastructure is at a higher level than in pre-SPLOST days. Here in Walton County, few dirt roads exist today so re-paving is a necessity. Quality water infrastructure must be implemented since wells are not the common water source any longer. Requirements for humane jail conditions now exist, that are more stringent than in the past. There are numerous federal and state laws that are now in effect that make many projects a requirement and that put more specific requirements on those projects.

Let us also remember that the cost of pretty much anything is now tremendously more today than of the old days. Re-paving a street or road used to be a relatively affordable endeavor for local governments. Today a mile of two-lane road can cost well over $1 million to mill, re-pave, and re-stripe. Other infrastructure costs have increased remarkably as new, more stringent laws and regulations govern every aspect of every component used from water pipe to crosswalks to playground equipment. These costs are usually too much for general funds alone while also having to fully fund the operational costs.

In addition to requirements and necessities are the wants and expectations of citizens and businesses. Having fire stations, fire engines, police vehicles, and even parks are all examples of things that are expected to maintain a higher quality of life in the 21st century. And let’s not forget about expansion of traffic management projects. As Walton County and its cities grow, so too must the mitigation of traffic issues. SPLOST funds are often used in conjunction with State funds to create major projects of impact. Without SPLOST, there will likely be less funding from the State for these major projects going forward.

Remember the cries for help in Monroe along the West Spring (SR 10 business) and Hwy 138 corridors for the immense traffic backups? While traffic is still heavy, the flow has been enhanced with several projects including the Eastbound on-ramp and now the forthcoming Westbound on-ramp to Hwy 78, each a joint city-county SPLOST-leveraged project with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

ALTERNATIVES

Without SPLOST to consistently fund these projects with needed capital outlays that are critical to providing services, the only option is to supplement with larger property tax revenues. Otherwise, drastic cuts to these and other services must occur to stay fiscally solvent and in doing so expectations may not be met. Service cuts or higher property taxes will also likely diminish our economic competitiveness since the local governments must market our communities to ensure that jobs and private sector investments are located here for the betterment of our citizens’ lives. Property tax pressures may well drive away small business and large industry where property tax competitiveness is essential.

In short, the SPLOST program has been historically well received in Walton County and has provided for an amazing amount of infrastructure and quality-of-life capital projects over the past few decades. It is a mechanism that collects revenues from the many rather than the few. SPLOST is an important financial resource for our local governments to ensure that the necessary and generally more expensive capital projects can be implemented for its citizens’ benefit. Of course, citizens should have a choice in the matter. That’s why SPLOST is such a unique and “special” funding means that allows your collective voice to be heard on the direction of major capital initiatives here locally.

Note: This article is meant only to explain how SPLOST affects the local governments and is intended only to educate about the general impacts of SPLOST.

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