May 19, 2014

SPLOST plans call for attention to detail

— The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners made seemingly official something they have been talking about for several months. They plan to call for a special election in March 2015 for a special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST).

A SPLOST is a 1 percent sales tax, which would likely bring in some $17 million a year, that the county can use for capital spending. Commissioners haven’t yet developed a list of projects that it would fund. But they have been looking at a handful of areas: public safety, parks and recreation, and economic development.

Whitfield County voters haven’t always responded well to SPLOST requests by commissioners. They’ve voted down more SPLOST referendums than they have approved. As we’ve noted in the past, the SPLOSTs that have succeeded have had a couple of things in common: They have focused tightly on a handful of needs, and they have focused on projects that were widely regarded as needed. Most of the successful SPLOSTs have also been for only two or three years.

With that in mind, commissioners should tread carefully in calling for this SPLOST. Placing items on it that have less than near-universal support could well doom it. They have to ask themselves whether it’s better to ask for a few items that voters would almost certainly approve or put together a larger list that risks defeat. We’d advise them to do the former.

And the Dalton City Council has to make a tough decision as well. The city would get a share of SPLOST funds if it passes. So will council members support this SPLOST? Or will they oppose it? And if they oppose it, will they act to undermine support for it by, say, placing a project on the list that is certain to cause voters to vote against it?

We submit that, even if council members ultimately oppose the SPLOST they should try to put together a legitimate list of projects they would fund.

Local officials have several months to put their plans together. That’s plenty of time to put together a tightly focused, limited SPLOST that will take care of the county’s highest needs.

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