by John Preer
On Nov. 5 Valdosta residents are expected to vote on SPLOST, a matter that will affect the city for the next six years.
This year’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax will be the seventh referendum of its kind. For the past 20 years voters have supported the continuation of the sales tax.
However, last year in an attempt to have the vote coincide with the general election period, SPLOST was voted down by the slim margin of 51 to 48 percent.
“Historically, special referendums have never done well in general elections … people are so interested in voting for that particular issue, so anything else is seen as a waste of time so they just vote no,” Mayor John Gayle said.
Since SPLOST hasn’t yet reached its mandated six year span, supporters and antagonists alike will have a rare second chance to have their votes counted.
“We didn’t do a good job of educating people,” Gayle said.
Contrary to beliefs, SPLOST is not a new referendum and voting in favor of SPLOST does not translate to more money being taken from Valdosta taxpayers.
In actuality SPLOST is responsible for many improvements to the city of Valdosta and surrounding counties.
Gayle asserted that over half of the funds generated by SPLOST come from temporary residents and visitors.
“The Department of Revenue prints out a report that states that 52.6 percent of our sales tax money is generated from outside of Lowndes County,” Gayle said.
However those who oppose the tax find this to be inaccurate.
“Saying visitors pay over half of SPLOST taxes is a con job to sell the tax,” Nolan Cox, Valdosta Tea Party member, said. “They claim visitors pay over half the SPLOST tax and they quote facts on retail sales ignoring the sales tax that residents pay monthly on electricity, natural gas, telephone, cable and cell phones that are not retail sales.”
The estimated $150-million that are generated by SPLOST are allocated for projects to improve Valdosta’s infrastructure, transportation, water and sewer facilities and public safety.
The majority of the money brought in by SPLOST–roughly $75.2-million–will be spent on water and sewer management.
The city of Valdosta intends to spend about $55.4-million on a waste water project.
Although SPLOST has been responsible for these improvements, it is not the only available venue for progress.
Earlier this year a bill was sponsored to modify the Municipal Optional Sales Tax.
MOST is an option that would generate an estimated $55-million and last only three years. In addition, the funds that MOST generates can only be allocated for water and sewer facility improvements.
Opposition to SPLOST view MOST as a possible alternative because it cuts many of the projects that aren’t viewed as a priority by conservatives and Tea Party members.
If MOST were to gain support, funding would not be allocated for parks, libraries and other recreational facilities.
In addition, conservatives are in support of MOST because unlike SPLOST, once the estimated goal is reached, the city-wide tax stops.
“The problem with MOST is that it would only apply to the city so it would mean that we would have a different sales tax rate in the county as apposed to the city,” Gayle said.