Over the course of the next few months, Forsyth County residents are going to hear an awful lot about taxes of one sort or another, and as the discussions progress it is important to keep separate the various taxing entities and the purposes of the tax levies being discussed.
The county school system last week approved an increase in property taxes for the purpose of retiring debt while adopting a millage rate for daily operational purposes that will generate a little less revenue than last year because of lower property values.
This property tax levy does not require a vote of the general public and only affects property owners. It is not a sales tax.
Earlier this year, county voters endorsed the continuation of a sales tax for education, and some felt the school board should not have increased property taxes after having seen the school system sales tax approved.
The county government, meanwhile, will be holding a referendum on a county sales tax in November. This sales tax, called a SPLOST, would not go into effect for two years, when the current SPLOST program expires. SPLOST collections are earmarked for specific projects, and if voters say yes in November they will be financing a new courthouse, jail and emergency water generator, as well as smaller county projects.
And then there is the new regional sales tax specifically for transportation that is expected to be put before the voters on a multicounty basis next year, if area officials can come to agreement on the list of projects that would be undertaken if the tax is approved.
This newest of the state’s sales tax programs is designed to help areas address major transportation needs — primarily road construction and improvement — at the regional level rather than statewide. It is distinct from any of the other sales tax programs now in existence.
While at the big picture level “taxes are taxes” — dollars taken from private individuals to finance government operations — each of these different forms of taxation serves a unique purpose.
When voters are asked to go to the polls to decide if they will tax themselves, it is vital that they understand the issues at hand and evaluate the credibility of the agency that will be handling their tax dollars.
Adding to the confusion will be next year’s elections, when candidates for a host of offices will be offering their positions on the issue of taxes, with many of them vowing never to increase taxes while in office, a pledge made famous by George H.W. Bush who then ultimately increased taxes anyway.
It isn’t enough to simply oppose all taxes, for any reason. Nor does it make sense to vote against a county tax because you don’t like what the school system has done, or to vote against a regional tax out of frustration with local tax collections. No one particulary likes taxes, but a total anti-tax stand isn’t necessarily a solution either.
In the months to come, it is vital that local residents become educated on the various tax decisions they will be asked to make in order to intelligently cast ballots on both taxes and candidates. The level of service we expect from government and the quality of life we expect in our communities are all dependent on some degree on the level of taxation we are willing to accept.