December 7, 2013

A taxing question

County commissioners could ask for a SPLOST in 2014

Charles Oliver

— Whitfield County recently bought its first new fire truck in six years.

“We need to be putting a new one into service each year,” Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb said. “We have 20 of them, and they have a life of 20 years, so that works out to one a year.”

Babb said the sheriff’s office also needs 10 new patrol cars to replace part of its aging fleet.

And road paving? He said the only roads the county will pave next year are the ones that get state funding.

“That can’t go on. We have roads that will eventually have to be repaved. We will have to replace those fire engines,” he said.

And Babb said the county has two ways to pay for those needs: The property tax or a special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST).

“Take, say, a fire truck. It would cost us one mill to buy a fire truck or we can use one month of a SPLOST,” Babb said.

In that light, the SPLOST is one of the few tools the county has to give any sort of relief to property taxpayers, Babb said.

“I can’t promise you that if we have a SPLOST the millage rate won’t go up. There are things that can come up that we don’t expect. The state withheld a million dollars of out sales tax this year because they gave a rebate to somebody,” he said. “I can promise you that without a SPLOST the millage rate is going up.”

Babb said he and other commissioners are discussing the possibility of putting a SPLOST referendum on the ballot next year. He said they haven’t decided which ballot they’d put it on if they do. But he says it will be limited in length and scope.

“Paving roads. Public safety. I guess everyone has a wish list. Everyone has different priorities. But those are probably the things that most people are likely to agree on. I think people will be willing to vote for that,” he said.

The county’s last SPLOST, which was targeted at transportation, expired three years ago.

Last November, Northwest Georgia voters, including Whitfield County, turned down a regional SPLOST that would have funded transportation projects. Babb said he believes Whitfield County voters believed that they would rather see their tax dollars spent locally than as part of a regional plan.