SPLOST committee formed

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

A committee has been formed to promote SPLOST 2011.

The committee met this week for the first time with about 35 people in attendance, said Denny Dobbs, who is co-chairman along with Billy Fortson. The committee's purpose is to promote SPLOST and educate the public on the project list prior to the March 15 Special Election.

Members represent many factions of the community and range from business people, hospital representatives, farmers and average citizens who use county facilities, Dobbs said. About 50 names were generated by county officials to serve.

"The overall impact of SPLOST is a real positive for our community. You can nitpick at different little pieces you don't like, but probably 97 percent of every dollar on there is something everybody feels comfortable about," Dobbs said. "There may be 2 or 3 percent that you say that might not be my first choice. But if you went in for a business deal and they said, 'We're going to give you 97 percent of everything you want,' you'd come out pretty good. There may be individual items people have different opinions about, but overall this SPLOST is critical."

Especially important is the $8.5 million in debt service, he said.

'That debt service is not optional. It's either going to come out of the operating fund through a property tax increase or through SPLOST," he said.

More than $18 million in transportation projects are also critical, Dobbs said. No projects will be bonded this time around, meaning the money must be in hand before they will begin, he said. All projects will also go back to the county commission or appropriate municipal entity to pass "second muster" before they commence, he said.

Perhaps most importantly, it won't just be Newton County residents who foot the bill for these projects, he said.

"We're going to get help from all our surrounding neighbors who come and shop. You can have a sales tax where everybody contributes or we can have a millage increase, but we've got to pay that debt service. Don't cut off your nose to spite your face," he said, adding that SPLOST is needed more than ever given the financial shape of the county. Last year county officials were forced to lay off dozens of employees and cut services to make up a more than $5 million budget shortfall.

Citizens who would like more information about SPLOST can visit the county's Web site at www.co.newton.ga.us for a list of projects and to e-mail questions to SPLOST committee members, or call 770-786-2338.

SPLOST is a 1-cent sales tax used to fund capital outlay projects and pay down general obligation debt.

While the citizen's committee is allowed to promote SPLOST, elected officials and county employees are limited in what they can say. Elected officials can express a personal opinion but cannot speak on behalf of the local government. Employees are prohibited from activities supporting or opposing SPLOST at the taxpayers' expense or during work hours. In addition, public funds cannot be spent to support or oppose SPLOST.

The county can provide descriptions of projects and the expected impact on the county but cannot advocate which way a citizen should vote. County funds may be spent to educate the public in a neutral way about SPLOST.

If approved by voters, SPLOST 2011 is expected to generate $57.6 million over six years, with collections beginning July 1, the day after the current SPLOST sunsets.

See future editions of the Citizen for an ongoing series on SPLOST projects.