BANNISTER: One-penny sales tax is an attractive option

Charles Bannister

Charles Bannister

There is a way to reduce property taxes and still raise new revenue for county and city governments. To accomplish that, Gwinnett County is encouraging state lawmakers to modify the law that created the local option sales tax.

I represented parts of Gwinnett in the state legislature when we passed that law. Our intent was to give local voters an option to roll back property taxes and use a countywide sales tax instead. Today, Gwinnett is one of three Georgia counties that do not take advantage of this one-cent sales tax.

In Gwinnett, between 30 and 35 percent of the revenue from sales taxes comes from people who live outside the county. So Gwinnett residents would pay less of the overall increase. And at least some of the burden of paying for city and county government would shift from Gwinnett property owners to everyone who shops here.

But the law as written requires local governments to roll back property tax revenue by the amount the LOST tax raised during the previous year. So as it stands now, it wouldn't bring in any new funding to help us deal with massive property tax shortfalls due to foreclosures and declining values during this recession.

That's why we're proposing a change to state law so that cities and counties could use half the revenues from a LOST tax for operating expenses. The other half would offset an equal reduction in property tax. Voters would still need to approve the tax by referendum before it could go into effect.

I believe this is a good way to offset falling revenues without raising the property tax. Local voters need the right to consider this option. This is an election year. Next year is not. The time to get this passed is now.

The current special purpose local option sales tax program would not be affected. The money it raises is only for specified capital improvements and we cannot use it for operating expenses.

The current total sales tax in Gwinnett is six percent -- among the lowest in the state.

My constituents tell me they favor a sales tax over a property tax increase. And I believe most now see that we need a new funding source for government operations.

I hope you'll support this effort to modify current state law by letting your state legislators know your opinion. I believe this is the fairest way to keep local governments functioning in these difficult economic times.

Charles E. Bannister is chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.