Macon and Bibb County leaders made their final push Monday to steer voters toward their way of thinking on the special purpose local option sales tax vote to be decided at the polls Tuesday.
City officials largely oppose the SPLOST, while Bibb County leaders have pushed for its passage. The SPLOST would raise about $183 million in sales tax money over six years.
At City Hall, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert urged voters to vote no. Flanked by Macon City Council members Miriam Paris, Larry Schlesinger, Alveno Ross, Nancy White and Erick Erickson, Reichert told a group of about 40 people that the proposed SPLOST is “fatally flawed ... one that drives us apart rather than pulling us together.”
Another news conference followed shortly after the one at City Hall ended. This one featured County Commission Chairman Sam Hart standing in front of Commissioners Elmo Richardson, Lonzy Edwards and Joe Allen. Hart called the SPLOST proposal “an opportunity to make progress in our community, and more importantly it’s an opportunity to put our citizens to work.”
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The SPLOST would fund several projects, beginning with a courthouse complex as a top-tier project. Other items that would be funded include recreational facilities, a new emergency radio system and a stormwater runoff system. Those projects ordinarily couldn’t be funded until the courthouse complex was built, but county officials say they found a way to use bonds so those projects could be started more quickly.
The city and county have been at odds over the SPLOST for months. When the two governments failed to reach a service delivery agreement, the city declined to support the SPLOST. The City Council voted 13-2 in a resolution that supported Reichert’s wish of delaying the SPLOST vote until November, once the service delivery strategy had been worked out.
State law puts counties in control of SPLOST ballots, and county commissioners stuck with the July vote. Hart said Monday that commissioners are determined to end double taxation and share services fairly, but he called those completely separate issues from the SPLOST. Hart repeated a call to make negotiations effective through a tax equity study to figure out which government was paying too much.
“We want to eliminate double taxation as much as anybody else, but we want to know where we’re starting,” Hart said.
Reichert said Tuesday that a “no” vote ultimately would lead to a more unified city-county relationship.
“By voting ‘no,’ we think you are saying ‘yes’ to a more unified community, where the county doesn’t proceed to call for a special purpose local option sales tax without an intergovernmental agreement and the support of the city,” Reichert said.
Schlesinger, Ross and Paris also spoke at the news conference, echoing their support for Reichert.
“Now is the time for all of us to let the mayor lead,” Schlesinger said. “He has taken a courageous stand on this issue. This is a double-tax in particular. It is taking money out of all of our pockets.”
Paris said this SPLOST was flawed since its inception.
“Never has the county gone on (to propose a SPLOST) without the city,” she said. “That lack of cooperation started this argument.”
People at the city’s news conference said they aren’t necessarily against SPLOSTs in general, just the current one.
“I just have strong feelings, because there’s no definite plan as to how every dollar is going to be spent,” resident Gail Spencer said. “The courthouse needs to be done, but we’re in a recession. We need to see how every penny goes.”