First and most importantly, a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is a tax. SPLOST VII is not about the jail, it’s about yet another tax for another six years. It takes $20 billion dollars in sales to generate $200 million for the SPLOST VII projects.
It is very important to know that if those projects are not completed due to the economy and low sales tax revenues, those projects still must be completed. They can be downsized, but they must be completed with revenues out of the county’s general funds or from "another" subsequent SPLOST.
Our issue is with the timing of this SPLOST, the state of the economy, the special referendum ballot, the approximately $60 million for a new courthouse, the widening of Castleberry Road to four lanes over other roads that have much more traffic, and the lack of citizen involvement in such an important project.
There have been practically no public meetings on SPLOST VII and no detailed information has been given. The county has more meetings and gives out more information for a simple rezoning of a parcel of land or a red light than we have had on this proposed $200 million tax.
We understand the need for the jail and we have asked for information showing us what the jail will look like, how much it will take to build, what it will cost to run, and what it will look like downtown. We have also asked why the land the county bought for $7 million in 2008 for the new jail is suddenly not buildable. None of those questions have been answered.
We have asked to see what it would take to enlarge our "current" courthouse out the backside so we can add two courtrooms, inmate holding cell, secured parking for judges, and a secured elevator for inmate and judge use. We have also made suggestions to move the tag office out of the Sawnee Center facility and to use that space for another courtroom for the magistrates. We have also suggested that an efficiency study be done on our court system and processes and suggest areas where we could save time and money. Yet, our suggestions fall on deaf ears.
The timing of this SPLOST is being done prematurely. We have a T-SPLOST on the ballot next year for regional road improvements and we should really wait to see if this regional SPLOST passes before we vote on our SPLOST VII. If they both pass, we could have an 8 percent sales tax. If the T-SPLOST doesn’t pass, we will need to allocate money for our highest travelled roads and not for some of the current roads on this SPLOST VII.
With the state of the economy in a double dip recession, unemployment pushing 9 percent and a decimated real estate market, it is not the time to be taxing citizens for $200 million dollars.
In the fourth quarter of 2006, Forsyth County had 4,183 housing starts; today we average about 300 per quarter. According to the Department of Commerce Census Bureau, housing starts have dropped 97 percent. The economic activity (consumer expenditures that generate sales taxes) from the housing market in 2006 was $372 million, but it has plummeted to $14 million, down 96 percent. Homeowner equity is down 27 percent from July 2007. That represents a loss of over $3.8 billion. Now is not a time for more taxes.
The SPLOST VII is a tax and it comes out of your family’s income and budget. A 1 percent tax will cost your household about $3,125 over six years. That is about $500 per year from your family’s budget for the county’s budget. And remember, we could have three separate SPLOSTs on the books by 2013.
Why has an expiring SPLOST tax in this county always been followed by yet another SPLOST tax? We have them for the county and schools and they just keep coming. It’s like the local government wins a $200 million lottery and then they find things to spend it on. We need to be more fiscally responsible!
As taxpaying citizens we deserve to be given the information to make good decisions and an informed vote. So far, the same Board of Commissioners who wanted to give themselves "benefits" until age 65 after they left office, want us to just take their word on needing a new jail and a new courthouse.
We will not support a $200 million tax only to find out later what the jail will look like, that there are other options that could save us money, that roads that don’t need widening are being widened over roads that do need it, that our courthouse could be added onto and with renovation be improved upon to satisfy our needs. Our elected officials need to start acting like fiscally responsible officials and not like the federal government officials.
Steve Voshall is chairman of the Forsyth County Tea Party.