Residence: Warner Robins
Occupation: Chairman, Houston County Board of Commissioners
Q: The 2018 special purpose local options sales tax passed March 21. There are reportedly just over 100,000 registered voters in Houston County. What was the vote?
A: 2,862 for and 660 against. That was 81 percent to 19.
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Q: Just what is a SPLOST?
A: A countywide 1 percent sales tax that can only be used for capital outlay projects within the county and its municipalities — specific projects. It’s not money collected that can be used for just anything after we get it. It’s collected for specific projects that can’t be changed except through a long, transparent process that shows the project has become unfeasible. That process includes public hearings. I don’t recall it ever happening, particularly in Houston County. We have dirt road paving projects from the 2001 SPLOST that aren’t done but the money is still there waiting to be used for them.
Q: Why haven’t they been done?
A: They’ve been hung up on right of way issues but the money is still in the bank where it’s supposed to be.
Q: Other facts?
A: Again, funds can’t be used for operating expenses to keep things going day to day but only for capital outlay projects. The 1 percent is collected on all items subject to state sales tax.
Q: What were the first SPLOST dollars used for?
A: For two projects only: the new courthouse and jail. Then there were 2001, 2006, 2012 SPLOSTS and now the 2018 SPLOST is in place. Not to complicate things, but it may be informative to note other local taxes: the Board of Education has its own 1 penny ESPLOST that goes for education. There’s also a LOST tax—local option sales tax—that is a sales tax the Board of Education gets but not for added revenue, Its mandated use is to roll back the millage rate to reduce property owner’s tax. You can see on your tax bill an explanation of the reduction due to the LOST. It usually means a 4 to 5 mill reduction. There was a Board of Education SPLOST years ago that didn’t pass first time around but every county SPLOST has passed.
Q: Back to the county SPLOST — a penny on the dollar in sales tax for county and municipal projects, what do you see as its benefit?
A: I see it as the fairest tax. It’s a consumption tax everybody pays and the money doesn’t just come from Houston County residents but visitors who come to shop, come for sports events and tournaments, visit local attractions, come in as contractors visiting Robins Air Force Base — all these and others spend money that helps us improve our community in a number of ways.
Q: Including further economic development?
A: Absolutely. These improvements are attractive, necessary really, to continue bringing people, business and industry to Houston County. And keeping them here.
Q: What do the resounding, ongoing SPLOST approvals say to you about residents?
A: That they see the value and need for improvement and recognize the fairness of the approach. I can tell you from the government side there’s no way we could do all these projects and make the advancements and improvements we do on the back of taxing property owners. It’s the only way we’re able to do what we do to improve roads and transportation, infrastructure, keep law enforcement officers and our firefighters well equipped, have the facilities we need, even the libraries and other improvements. Most all of them are quality of life matters. Whether its road widening or improving water mains, it all goes back to the quality of life we have. Without it we could easily be in decline rather than advancing and growing as a county and cities.
Q: What are you proudest of that the SPLOSTs have done? Or will do?
A: I won’t say any one project, I think each one was important to someone in some way. I’d have to say it’s the overall progress made and the benefit SPLOSTs bring to everybody. Residents and visitors. I’m proudest of our residents and the cooperation we have throughout the county’s various governments, elected officials and other leaders. That along with the ability to make improvements for years to come. With these type projects we won’t feel the benefit of some of them until 2025. Carrying out some of these things really takes time. It’s hard putting dollar amounts on future projects but we take a lot of care doing it and great cooperation throughout the county deciding on projects and how to spend equitably. We also work very hard — and do a very good job, I believe — of being transparent in the whole process. Every dollar is accounted for.
Q: As you’ve indicated, SPLOST funds don’t have to be spent within the defined SPLOST period.
A: That’s right. Money can be collected and put in the pot only during that limited SPLOST period, but money stays in the pot and can be used until projects are complete.
Q: It would be impossible to list past and future projects here, and the coming projects were spelled out in many ways prior to the referendum, but is there a way residents can review what’s been done with SPLOST funds?
A: There is and I think anybody would be impressed, shocked even, at what’s been accomplished. It’s easy to forget this money has taken Russell Parkway out to I-75, widened roads large and small like Corder Road and U.S. 41 and Ga. 96, built police and fire stations across the county and even put pedestrian crosswalk signals in place. But to answer, we have a book in the county commission office lobby at 200 Carl Vinson Parkway that outlines past and future projects and includes funding data. It’s really impressive to see what’s come from all those SPLOST pennies.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com.