Nobody votes for a SPLOST so that they can take the money and put it into a savings account. SPLOSTs are associated with spending money to complete certain specific projects.
What that means is that our decision process is normally very simple and clear. Do I want to spend the money and have a SPLOST, or would I rather not spend the money and not have a SPLOST? And that’s really all you need to know to make your decision.
For us, it is not so simple and clear. The critical part of our decision has already been made for us, because – in our case – the money has already been spent. Not only has it been spent, but it has been spent for the next 20+ years. The only decision left for us is “How do we pay for it?”
Our only choices are to have a SPLOST or raise property taxes. That’s it. It WILL be one or the other. Defaulting on the debt would be unacceptable, but the fact is that we couldn’t even if we wanted to. Our county has pledged the full faith and credit and taxing authority to the repayment of this debt. That means that if we do not pay, the state will step in and seize the first $4.2 Million of our property taxes and pay the debt for us, then tell us to live on what’s left. Financially, that is really no different than our current situation, but the last thing we want is the state running our county.
On November 5th – and every business day until then if you want to participate in early voting – we will be asked to decide if we want to approve another SPLOST or if we want to have our property taxes raised enough to cover the debt payment.
If we do not approve the SPLOST, the increase in our property taxes will be massive. The estimate is between 3 and 4 Mils on the county Maintenance and Operation portion of our taxes. That means that the county portion could increase by more than 50%. Seniors and property in conservation will not be exempted and will pay the full 3-4 Mils.
If we do approve the SPLOST, past history indicates that approximately 32% of the funds generated from it will be derived from visitors to our county. While this doesn’t equate directly to a reduction in the amount of the debt, it does mean that a large portion of the debt payments will be made by our visitors, thus relieving us of that much of the burden.
All things considered, it seems that approval of the SPLOST is a no brainer, but the fact is that there is significant opposition to another SPLOST and approval is by no means certain. This is due primarily to the discovery that SPLOST funds in the past have been used for purposes other than debt payment. In fact, the wording of the new SPLOST resolution allowed our Commissioners the ability to use the funds on any of the SPLOST approved projects at their discretion.
As the resolution was originally written, I would have voted against it; but there was an intensive effort to have the wording changed to guarantee that the SPLOST funds could not be used for any other purpose until the debt service is funded each year. Our Commissioners resisted this effort, stating that they needed to have the flexibility to use the funds at their discretion, but the citizens of Gilmer County pushed back hard on this idea.
In addition to calls and emails by individual citizens, petitions supporting the prioritization of SPLOST funds for debt payment were presented to the BOC by the Gilmer County Republican Party, the TEA Party of Gilmer County, and the Campaign4Liberty. Eventually, the BOC accepted a proposed modification that guaranteed that no funds could be used for anything else until our yearly debt service had been secured. Now, however, there is some confusion about just what we will be voting on.
The confusion stems from the printed articles showing the text of the SPLOST referendum that will appear on the ballot. Nowhere in this text is the debt service guarantee language to be found. So what’s going on?
It was never intended that the text of the entire SPLOST resolution would be presented on the ballot. It’s just too large and cumbersome for that. The portion that was intended for the ballot is Appendix A – essentially a condensed version of the full resolution that is pared down enough to place on the ballot. The vote, however, will be to approve the full resolution – with debt guarantee intact – so this is not a double cross on the part of our Commission, and you can vote to approve the SPLOST with assurance that all money must be applied to our debt service until it is completely funded each year.
We need the new SPLOST. We do not need tax increases on our property. For all the reasons given above, I urge you to vote YES on the SPLOST referendum.