New SPLOST may appear on ballet in November

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Henry County voters will have another special-purpose local-option sales tax on the ballot in November if one commissioner gets his way.

Commissioner Bruce Holmes made a motion at the May 16 regular Board of Commissioners meeting to direct the county attorney and other county staff to begin compiling information regarding the process of putting a T-SPLOST on the ballot. The motion passed unanimously.

Shortly after local citizen Clayton Carte addressed the board during regular public comment time and encouraged everyone to consider the potential benefits of a T-SPLOST, Holmes took the opportunity to point out the need he sees for this kind of funding for transportation needs.

“I think everyone in this county knows we are in dire need of improving our road infrastructure. We have subdivisions where the roads are in disrepair, we have intersections that need to be improved, we have a number of roads that need to be widened,” said Holmes. “The T-SPLOST would help us incorporate trails throughout the county and improve quality of life for our citizens.”

The commissioner then put the onus on the citizens to make the call as to whether the T-SPLOST was the right mechanism for moving forward.

“I think that we should let the citizens of Henry County decide what they want to do,” he said. “It shouldn’t be left up to us. This is an opportunity for them to decide if they want to improve this county. This is very important.”

Board chair June Wood pointed out that a new city-county comprehensive transportation plan for Henry County has just been completed, and it shows a significant funding gap. “We will have to decide soon how to address it,” she said.

When Holmes made his motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Dee Clemmons, other commissioners said initially that they were not prepared to go forward on such short notice and without more information. When Clemmons reminded them that the motion was simply for information gathering and not for definitive action, the entire board came to an agreement.

Not everyone in the audience was in agreement, however. Right after Carte spoke, another citizen pointed out that the T-SPLOST idea had failed massively a few years ago.

“We are tired of being overtaxed,” Carl Swensson said emphatically.

As for the nuts and bolts of Holmes’ request, county attorney Patrick Jaugstetter said there would be “a lot to do” and a resolution wouldn’t be forthcoming at the next board meeting.

“The staff needs some direction,” said Jaugstetter. “The law requires a lot of due diligence.”

The term “T-SPLOST” is not necessarily an endearing one to voters in Henry County and throughout Georgia. A 2012 referendum across the state proposing a ten-year, one-cent tax was soundly defeated, with only three of 12 regions in Georgia passing it. The 10-county metro Atlanta region, of which Henry County was a part, saw 63 percent of voters opting against it.

The “no” votes in Henry County were 71 percent. Voters here cited a variety of concerns, from whether the money generated would actually be used in Henry County to a general distrust in government.

Henry County consumers currently pay seven cents on the dollar in sales tax. One cent goes toward the county’s regular SPLOST program, the current version of which was passed in November of 2013. Collections began April 1, 2014, and will run through March 31, 2020. The list of transportation and capital projects for which this money is designated is lengthy and can be found on the county’s website. Based on typical comments from county officials, it is a foregone conclusion that a referendum will occur in a couple of years to extend the current SPLOST.

Another penny of each purchase goes to the Henry County Board of Education. School systems are also allowed a SPLOST for school construction and improvements. The Henry County School System renewed its E-SPLOST in November of 2011 and started collecting Jan. 1, 2013. Collections will end Dec. 31, 2018.