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Voters approve SPLOST extension in Gwinnett

Bart Jones, left, and Alex Steed, back, both of Lawrenceville cast their vote during the Gwinnett County Special Election on the extension of the 1 percent sales tax at the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

Bart Jones, left, and Alex Steed, back, both of Lawrenceville cast their vote during the Gwinnett County Special Election on the extension of the 1 percent sales tax at the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Motorist drive by a “Vote to Renew Splost” sign which is seen outside the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville during the Gwinnett County Special Election on the extension of the 1 percent sales tax Tuesday evening. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Assistant poll manager Cynthia Burley - Grant and volunteer Lucinda Mills, right, provide a access card to locals who cast their vote during the Gwinnett County Special Election on the extension of the 1 percent sales tax at the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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A pyramid of “I’m a Georgia Voter” stickers await to be worn during Gwinnett County Special Election on the extension of the 1 percent sales tax at the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville polling location Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash (second from left) watches returns on the county sales tax referendum Tuesday, with her husband Michael (left), Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Director Connie Wiggins and Commissioner Tommy Hunter. (Staff Photo: Camie Young)

Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter considered Tuesday’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum a vote of confidence for elected leaders.

And he was relieved when voters gave their support, with 58 percent voting in favor of an extension to the tax, which has funded most of the county’s building projects for nearly 25 years. According to unofficial results, the tally came to 21,647 yeses to 15,499 no votes.

“It’s all about the trust,” Hunter said, referring to years of turmoil after the indictment of two commissioners and resignation of another over political scandals. “I think we’ve worked really hard to try to change that (distrust). … I hope that’s what this is a sign of, and I hope we can keep it.”

“Now we’ve got to spend it wisely, show that we are trustworthy,” Commissioner Jace Brooks added about the $498 million in funds the tax is expected to bring in over the next three years.

The one-percent sales tax has been slated mostly to fund transportation projects, with other funds directed toward libraries, parks, senior facilities, city projects and public safety, $5 million of which was set aside for a school emergency response system.

Coming just over a year after the defeat of a regional transportation sales tax, the proposal brought criticisms for a lack of a specific road project list and some questioned whether the tax should continue after more than two decades.

“While we are disappointed, it really is not that surprising,” said David Hancock, a co-founder of the Gwinnett Tea Party who lead a campaign to defeat the proposal. “SPLOST has passed over and over again for the past 25 years, and the county is very good at promoting the additional tax. I just hope that this time we will see some improvements in traffic, but I fear we will be in the same situation we are now when the county comes back to renew the tax in 2016.”

Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said that she would take heed of the criticism and work to remedy some of the concerns, including further increasing transparency.

She said she was disappointed but not surprised in the low voter turnout, after only 9.76 percent of the electorate took to the polls Tuesday.

After casting her ballot in Lawrenceville, local resident Mary Thompson said the money is needed for improvements.

“You can see progress. You can see the sidewalks,” she said. “It’s tangible.”