You’ve seen the bright red and white signs in yards all over town with the large print screaming, “VOTE NO SPLOST!”
Those citizens in Richmond County who are against this year’s proposed $215 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax list are a very vocal group.
Several Augusta commissioners are worried.
And they very well should be.
This isn’t the first time that the public has been up in arms about a SPLOST list.
Back in 2004, local groups were lining up to voice their objections to that year’s proposed $486 million sales tax list.
First, Augusta Mayor Bob Young vowed to vote against it, saying the SPLOST list was a “reflection of some fundamental flaws in this government.”
Then, the Richmond County Republican Party held a press conference, calling the package an “enormous pig” that needed to be slaughtered at the polls.
From there, organizations like Augusta Tomorrow, members of the SPLOST Citizens Committee and even The Augusta Chronicle called for citizens to kill the sales tax referendum.
Voters listened, and the SPLOST list went down in flames.
About 40,300 people at the polls voted against the SPLOST referendum compared to only about 24,450 voters supporting it.
In 2000, SPLOST was also on shaky ground after several local groups and citizens demanded it be shot down.
Dave Barbee, speaking on behalf of the Richmond County Republican Party, sent a letter to the Metro Spirit and other media outlets in September of 2000, demanding SPLOST be rejected at the polls.
“SPLOST was designed and passed into law 13 years ago as a source of revenue to be used for roads, bridges and drainage problems without increasing local property taxes,” Barbee wrote in 2000. “Richmond County has serious drainage problems and the Richmond County Republican Party Executive Committee feels that the intent of the original SPLOST law for use of funds should be followed. However, the majority of the drainage projects were not placed in the current SPLOST list of projects. This is wrong!”
At the time, Mayor Bob Young recognized that the call to vote down the SPLOST package by Barbee and the Richmond County Republican Party could seriously jeopardize SPLOST at the polls.
So Young took action.
Every chance the mayor got, he spoke out in support of the 2000 SPLOST.
“Imagine what it would be like to live in a community that had no paved roads, no sewage treatment, no clean water, no fire equipment to protect your house, no jail for the bad guys, no ball fields or playgrounds,” Young wrote in response to Barbee’s letter. “Such a city would be a pretty dull place. Such a city could very well have been Augusta had it not been for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).”
Young attempted to present citizens across the county with facts.
“Since its inception, SPLOST has been responsible for $355 million in capital projects in Augusta,” Young wrote in 2000. “The bulk of the money, $234 million, has been used to build roads and improve drainage. Recreation projects have received $46 million. Thirty-four million dollars went for the new jail. Other funds went to libraries, traffic signals, utilities, street lights and sidewalks.”
But Young said the raw numbers of SPLOST didn’t begin to scratch the surface of the money that has been spent to improve the infrastructure and quality of life in Augusta.
“In many cases, the penny sales tax has been used to leverage dollars from federal, state and private sources – money that otherwise would never have been available to this community,” he wrote. “This is not a tax increase, but the continuation of a tax that has been collected here since 1988. It is a tax that shifts the costs of public works projects from the property owner to the consumer.”
Back in 2000, the Augusta Commission had worked diligently with a 21-member citizens committee and held a series of public hearings prior to commissioners finalizing $159 million SPLOST.
The Augusta Commission had done its homework and proved to the citizens that they wanted them a part of the process.
“Nearly half of the money will be used for road improvements and drainage,” Young said in 2000. “A quarter of it is earmarked for public buildings. Public safety gets 15 percent and recreation gets 10 percent and civic improvement projects get only 2 percent.”
But this SPLOST was not just a list of projects, Young insisted.
“It must be seen in the context of a broader plan for community improvement,” he said in 2000. “The plan the commission has developed, which I call ‘Augusta 2000,’ combines the SPLOST, general obligation bonds, and water and sewer revenue bonds.”
Young said residents needed to seriously weigh the consequences of voting against SPLOST.
“It’s easy for detractors to complain about the source of problems in this city; there is certainly enough blame to spread around,” he wrote. “It’s an entirely different matter to step forward and offer specific plans for improvement. The hard solution is finding the money to pay for the work that needs to be done.”
“Augusta 2000 is not the work of ‘tax-and-spend liberals,’” Young insisted. “Augusta 2000 is the blueprint this community has needed for years.”
In the end, the SPLOST list that Young nicknamed “Augusta 2000” passed overwhelmingly with 68 percent support at the polls.
So, what’s the moral of this story?
Wake up, Augusta commissioners.
If you are serious about getting this year’s $215 million SPLOST list approved by voters on Nov. 3, you have to get out and sell it to the community.
Get out the signs. Get out the flyers. Get out and talk to everyone you see. Because, right now, the “Vote No SPLOST!” groups are louder, more passionate and working a lot harder to sway public opinion.
Mayor and commissioners, you have two months.
You’d better get busy.