SPLOST rejected by voters in Bibb County

mstucka@macon.comJuly 21, 2010 

Bibb County officials hoped a 1-percent sales tax would rebuild the community. With voters soundly rejecting the measure Tuesday, county and Macon leaders have to figure out how to rebuild their relationships.

The $183 million special purpose local option sales tax failed in a 7,795-11,617 decision. Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said the vote is a message from residents telling governments to get their acts together.

“The larger question is, ‘How do we bring the community back together?’’’ said Reichert, a leader of the anti-SPLOST efforts.

Similar thoughts were shared by another leading SPLOST advocate, Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce President Chip Cherry, who chaired the penny-tax lobbying organization Business For Progress.

“It’s a shame it was as contentious as it was, and I hope we get some reconciliation,” Cherry said.

But the next steps will be difficult. City leaders revolted against the county’s SPLOST bid in a dispute over how to share services, saying they wanted relief from double-taxation. A service delivery strategy agreement has an October deadline, and city and county officials haven’t even agreed whether they need a tax equity study to determine where their differences lay.

County Commission Chairman Sam Hart called again for the tax study Tuesday. He said he plans to meet soon with Superior Court Chief Judge Martha Christian, one of the judges who signed a 2007 judicial order to get better court facilities.

The SPLOST was supposed to have paid for a $43 million main courthouse as well as a Juvenile Court facility and renovations at the current courthouse, which would be used for county offices.

“The needs that are out there are real. They have not changed, and some of them will have to be addressed,” Hart said Tuesday night.

He said the county would have to find ways to work more efficiently and still do necessary projects, especially because the county already plans to raid its financial reserves to balance this year’s budget. He stopped short of calling for a property tax increase to fund the projects.

City Councilman Virgil Watkins said the priority needs to be an 800 MHz emergency radio system, which has been partially broken 30 percent of the time. The SPLOST would have put $12 million toward a replacement for that radio system. Watkins predicted another try at a SPLOST in a year, the next possible time the issue could go back before voters.

“Twelve months, we’re coming back for those things that only a SPLOST can do,” Watkins said.

David Corr, leader of local Libertarians, said voters sent “a resounding message that they do not want a tax increase at this time.”

Corr said that’s $183 million that will stay in people’s pockets over the six years the SPLOST would have run, letting private people spend the money more efficiently than the government would have.

The estimated $111 million left after the courthouse projects were paid for was tasked for the emergency radio system, recreation, stormwater drainage, debt payments and several other projects.

SPLOST supporters included commissioners, NewTown Macon and the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce. Opponents included most of Macon’s government, an anti-SPLOST group running with the motto of “This cent makes no $en$e,” and leaders with the CAUTION Macon group, which formed to fight problems with an earlier SPLOST.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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