A proposal to move the SPLOST referendum to March 2021 has gained support from government officials since the idea was announced earlier this week.
At least two county commissioners said they are in favor of moving the SPLOST question five months. But another commissioner said that while he favors the delay — because it would give leaders more time to inform the public about the issue — pushing the referendum from its current place on the November ballot will require a special election, which will cost money.
The SPLOST has been around in Carroll County since 1987. County and city governments rely on this revenue to fund capital projects that would otherwise require property tax dollars.
The sixth and current iteration of the sales tax began in 2015, according to the state Department of Revenue, and revenue collections for the current SPLOST are scheduled to end in March 2021. That means that the SPLOST renewal vote would be held at about the same time the revenues from the current SPLOST end, so voters must approve it if the revenue is to continue to flow.
The county anticipates collecting $105 million in SPLOST revenue if it gets renewed and has 11 items on its project list, ranging from roads and bridges to library facilities. City leaders also have plans for their shares of the revenue, and Carrollton officials already have $26 million in projects planned to be paid for by this money.
Carrollton Mayor Betty Cason made the proposal to postpone the SPLOST vote during a meeting on Wednesday between Commission Chairman Michelle Morgan and government leaders from across Carroll County.
“In November, we have so much going on the ballots and we don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle,” Cason said during the meeting on Wednesday. “If we have the special election in March, that will give us time for things to maybe settle down.”
Renewal of the one-cent sales tax is currently scheduled to go before voters on Nov. 3, the day of the general election. That date, however, is nearly five months after the June 9 primary, when voters will decide the fate of another sales tax, the ESPLOST, which would benefit county and city school projects.
“This is a renewal of the penny sales tax, not a new tax,” Morgan said on Wednesday. “The SPLOST is a way to fund our capital outlay projects without having to raise property taxes. The penny sales tax is paid for by those who shop in our county, are out of town, and are tourists. This has been a win-win, I know we all would agree, for our property owners and communities.”
At least two mayors, Villa Rica Mayor Gil McDougal and Bowdon Mayor Jim Chaffin, have said they would also support the delay.
Morgan said on Wednesday that she and several commissioners have talked about delaying the referendum and added the commission would “almost embrace” the idea of postponing the question.
On Friday, District 5 Commissioner Ernest Reynolds said he agrees with the proposal, considering everything going on with the county trying to plan a budget and keep track of finances as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Reynolds is running for re-election. District 2 Commissioner Clint Chance wrote in an email that he would also not be opposed to postponing the SPLOST referendum.
“My overall goal is to ensure we do a quality job in presenting factual material to the community that encompasses both what we have accomplished with current SPLOST dollars and intended projects/uses for future dollars if approved by voters,” Chance wrote.
He added that the current pandemic has had staff members and the commission “fully submerged” in dealing with the crisis and the FY21 budget process. Because the ESPLOST vote is coming up on the June 9 ballot, he said he does not want to get county voters confused about the two taxes.
SPLOST dollars are used to fund city and county capital projects, while the ESPLOST is used to pay for educational projects.
But while District 4 Commissioner Steve Fuller said moving the election would “not make a lot of difference,” he added separating it further from the ESPLOST vote in June made him feel better overall.
He said he does not want to dig into the county’s general fund reserves, which total about $15-$17 million, to pay for the projects earmarked for SPLOST dollars. This money would only be able to pave a few road miles and build a new bridge before it runs out, both of which he said are not “pet projects” for him.
“I want to see how this ESPLOST vote comes out, to be honest,” Fuller said. “There will be some money left over from this year. I think we have funds that will stretch out to June 2021, so if it fails, like they say in football, ‘you just have to punt.’ We’ll have to come up with some other funds somehow. If it fails, what’s the difference in it failing in November and it failing in March?”