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Locals talk SPLOST before vote

The Gwinnett Tea Party and Gwinnett County Commission hosted a forum Wednesday about the upcoming vote on the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, with a vote set for Tuesday to consider the extension of the tax.

The Gwinnett Tea Party and Gwinnett County Commission hosted a forum Wednesday about the upcoming vote on the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, with a vote set for Tuesday to consider the extension of the tax.

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Panelists speak Wednesday during a forum on Gwinnett’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, which will be on ballots Tuesday. Panelists, from left to right, included Jim Regan, Chris McClurg and Jennifer Falk, who are against the tax, and Mike Levengood, Amy Bray and Paige Havens, who support the proposal.

LAWRENCEVILLE — Patricia Sims didn’t know how she would vote in next week’s special purpose local option sales tax vote Wednesday afternoon. But by the time the two sides finished a forum on the issue that night, the Gwinnett woman knew which box she would mark.

“There were a couple of perspectives I really had not considered,” Sims said of the forum held Wednesday in Lawrenceville.

While Sims decided she would vote no, others said they were solidified in the support of the sales tax, which has been used for 25 years to fund projects such as the building of roads, fire stations, libraries and parks.

“Honestly, it’s been worth every penny,” said Paige Havens, a co-chair of the campaign encouraging people to vote yes.

The proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot would extend the sales tax for three years, with about 70 percent of the $498 million expected in revenues earmarked for transportation.

Even some of the panelists encouraging people to vote no on the issue admitted some of the projects from past programs have benefited the county greatly. But one of those panelists, Chris McClurg, said the extension of the program is about determining the county’s wants versus needs.

“If you have more money than you have sense, then vote for the SPLOST,” he said.

Supporter Mike Levengood described the one-percent sales as an approach to taxation that “ought to appeal to fiscal conservatives” because it is based on consumption and creates no local debt. But others said county officials have become too used to the multi-million dollar funding stream.

Bringing up controversies over the payment of inflated prices for parkland and corruption, opponents said the leaders have not been accountable for the money, while supporters pointed to project lists devised by residents.

McClurg described a recent announcement that $5 million of the money would go toward an emergency response system at local schools as a “scare and spend” tactic. One audience member said that proposal prompted his support.

“I’m going to vote for this tax simply because of that,” Andrew Pourchier, a father of two, said, adding he knows the system won’t keep incidents from happening but could help police respond if they do. “What I do believe can happen is we can save lives during a tragedy.”

Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash encouraged people to vote in next week’s election.

“There’s passion on both sides,” Nash said. “This is an important issue for Gwinnett County. There are essential things that have to be dealt with and there has to be funding. … You have a chance to have a say.”