The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is up for renewal. It seems awkward to call a tax that has been in place since the mid-’80s “special.” It has actually become an expected part of county revenue.
The $130 million per year the county expects to receive must be used for projects like libraries, parks, public safety and roads — the most popular functions of government. The county pays $126 million each year on debt service. Would SPLOST have a chance of passing if it was going to be used for that?
It didn’t last year when it was just for transportation. Having citizens approve a special tax for services the government is supposed to provide keeps commissioners from having to vote publicly for a tax increase and frees up money to pay for other things.
Loganville City Manager Bill Jones is quoted as saying “In some cases it is the only funding for specific projects that would otherwise have to wait such as road paving, pothole repairs, drainage issues, public safety facilities.” These expenses are basic functions of government, and should not be subject to the whims of the voters or their shopping preferences.
The only project approved for the 2014 SPLOST is a $5 million safety upgrade for Gwinnett Schools. But the county was still spending money from a 1997 SPLOST as late as 2011, and in 2012 they spent almost $3 million from a SPLOST that ended seven years earlier. The money may be taken out of the pockets of residents daily, but it sits on the shelf until the county can find something to buy. And what about the 1 percent ESPLOST that that we pay now specifically for education? Claiming they need a new SPLOST to keep our children safe seems like a ploy to bring in more tax revenue.
More than 75 percent of us who live in unincorporated Gwinnett will be paying taxes to improve cities in other parts of the county. We will have no input on how this money is spent and will not be able to vote for the politicians who spend it. The 33 residents of Rest Haven will appreciate the $17,000 they receive, but the overwhelming majority of us will never see the benefit.
Additional infrastructure means additional long-term liabilities. SPLOST funds cannot be used to operate and maintain these projects. Instead of helping to reduce property taxes, SPLOST spending may actually cause the County to increase property taxes down the road — the exact opposite of what is being promised. And if we have financial troubles there could be millions in SPLOST money that can’t be used to fund EMS, operations, or pay interest on outstanding loans. We could see a situation where the county doesn’t have enough money to operate but still has money to build new parks and libraries.
Dropping the SPLOST would reduce our sales tax by 17 percent. At a time when every penny matters, allowing Gwinnett residents to keep more of their money just makes sense.
David Hancock is co-chairman of the Gwinnett Tea Party. He lives in Suwanee and has been involved in community and political issues in Gwinnett County for more than 20 years.