On Wednesday, March 3, Dawson County News Editor Alexander Popp sat down with Dawsonville City Manager Bob Bolz, Dawson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Billy Thurmond and Public Works Director David McKee to discuss SPLOST VII, which is set for a special election in Dawson County on March 16.
Here are five of the biggest takeaways from this event.
Dawson County News SPLOST VII Virtual ForumIn this virtual forum, we talk to Dawson County and Dawsonville officials about SPLOST VII, the continuation of Dawson County's special purpose local option sales tax. This event includes a Q&A session with local experts about upcoming SPLOST projects and how SPLOST works.
What is SPLOST?
SPLOST or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, is a sales tax used to help fund special projects in communities. SPLOST has been around for decades in Dawson County, and each installment of SPLOST is voted on by local residents.
According to McKee, it’s important to realize that the $60 million, 6-year SPLOST VII isn’t a new tax, but is a continuation of an existing tax.
“This is a continuation of the same tax that Dawson County residents have seen for the past 25 or 30 plus years,” McKee said. “It is not a new tax, it’s a continuation of a one percent sales tax for retail sales.”
SPLOST dollars fund capital outlay projects within the county and the city, McKee said, and in the past, SPLOST has funded projects like road repaving, the construction of Rock Creek Park, the county jail and the courthouse. SPLOST dollars do not fund things like operations, maintenance or salaries.
Bolz said that another important thing to know about SPLOST is that the majority of SPLOST dollars come from people who don’t live in Dawson County, but who visit the community and its businesses.
“I think it’s important to point out that the majority of the revenue for SPLOST comes from sales and the majority of that comes from outside the county,” Bolz said. "80 to 85 percent I believe is the percentage I’ve heard, but a lot of it is being paid for by visitors from outside the community.”
What is the proposed city/county split for SPLOST VII funds and what projects are proposed as part of it?
With each continuation of SPLOST, Dawson County and the city of Dawsonville come up with a list of proposed projects to use SPLOST dollars on and how to split the funding between the two entities.
According to McKee, the proposed funding split for SPLOST VII would allocate 88 percent of the $60 million to the county and 12 percent to the city.
“Through several of our meetings we’ve talked about splits,” McKee said. “And where we have landed today is based off of a population split and essentially what’s being proposed is a 12 percent split would go to the city and the remaining would go to the county.”
According to McKee, the first project that would be funded by SPLOST VII would be a new Emergency Operations Center and 911 center. This project is what’s known as a Level 2 project, meaning that it would get funded before any of the remaining proposed projects.
If SPLOST VII passes the first $8.5 million collected would fund the EOC and 911 center, and then the remaining $51.5 million would be split between the city and the county.
In addition to the Level 2 project, the county’s proposed projects include IT and administrative upgrades, public safety vehicles and equipment, replacements or renovations to the county’s older fire stations, road repairs, parks and recreation improvements and a new public health department building.
The city has its own list of proposed projects, and according to Bolz, the city’s biggest priority would be road repairs.
“Our number one priority is the category of roads, streets, bridges and sidewalks,” Bolz said. “With the SPLOST funding, we hope to resurface and do deep patch repairing on the majority of the streets in the city that are not state right-of-ways.”
The city’s other proposed projects include land acquisition, upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure, improvements and additions to Main Street Park and beautification of the downtown Dawsonville area.
According to McKee, the total for the proposed county projects is $45,320,000, and the total for the proposed city projects is $6,180,000. These totals do not include the $8.5 million in funding projected for the EOC 911 center.
Have all revenues from past installments of SPLOST been spent? How have revenues from SPLOST VII compared to forecasted projections?
According to Thurmond, SPLOST VI is still in effect, so revenue from this installment are still being collected and spent.
“SPLOST VI continues until June 30 of this year, so we’re continuing to get revenue from SPLOST VI until June 30,” Thurmond said. "And has SPLOST VI exceeded expectations? It has. It was a $46 million project and we’re at $47 million, and the law allows you to continue to collect money until the end of the SPLOST term.”
According to Thurmond, due to those larger than expected revenues, the county has been able to go above and beyond, funding additional projects that would have otherwise been funded through other sources or SPLOST VII.
“Of those extra revenues, we spent a million dollars of that recently on a ladder truck, and we will continue to do projects within the same spectrum of what people voted for in SPLOST VI going forward until that’s all expended over the next several months,” Thurmond said.
McKee said that projects funded by SPLOST VI will continue to be worked on until all of the funds from the installment are spent.
“All of our SPLOST is a pay-as-you-go so we have really spread our projects out,” McKee said. “Over the next 2 years we will wrap up our road projects which was the majority of SPLOST VI, and if SPLOST VII is successful, while we’re building that Level 2 EOC and radio system we’ll utilize that time to continue the road improvements and we won’t see a gap for slow down in the road improvements.”
What happens if SPLOST VII doesn’t pass?
If SPLOST VII doesn’t pass, all three officials said that the county and the city would have to make hard decisions in order to accomplish their projects without the funding. According to Thurmond, the proposed projects are important, necessary projects that will still have to be addressed whether or not SPLOST VII passes.
But if it doesn’t pass, there’s a chance county residents could see a potential rise in property taxes, Thurmond said.
He said that the $60 million SPLOST VII provides funding equivalent to adding 6.15 mills of property tax, which is something the board is unwilling to do.
“There is no other funding source we have other than property tax other than just borrowing the money to do some of these projects,” Thurmond said. “Obviously no one wants to see their property tax go up and neither does the commission, so we’ll have to scale back this project list over a lot longer period of time, which will get us back to where we used to be where things that needed to be done couldn’t be done in a timely fashion.”
SPLOST, if selected by voters, is the fairest way to go about it, Thurmond said.
“Sales tax is the fairest tax — everybody pays that at point of purchase but not everybody pays property tax,” Thurmond said. “So it’s a mechanism to do all of these projects over a 6-year period that would be a very long process without it.”
McKee said that, without SPLOST funding to put toward the projects, it would be a lot harder for his department and the other departments in the county to meet the needs of the citizens.
“From a public works standpoint, without SPLOST VII our level of service has no choice but to decline,” McKee said.
What is the public’s role in helping to decide what projects will be funded by SPLOST dollars?
The public plays a very important role in deciding which projects the SPLOST dollars go towards, according to Thurmond. The specific projects listed on the ballot are what the citizens vote on, and without their approval, SPLOST would not continue.
“SPLOST is specific to the projects that are voted on so you can’t change the money around once it’s voted on by the citizens if it’s approved it has to be spent on those specific projects,” Thurmond said. “We’re always looking for input for a better way to get more out of the money that we have, so we would be interested in hearing from our citizens, what their thought processes are, but SPLOST is specific to the specific projects that are listed in the vote.”
Throughout the process of deciding which proposed projects to put on the ballot, both city and county officials said that they welcomed public input. This included the joint meetings between the two entities as well as every county commission meeting and city council meeting.
Bolz said that public input plays a large role in the decisions that are made for the citizens.
“We encourage people to share their thoughts, opinions and needs; I don’t have the magic answer to how to get everybody to submit their needs, but I know that our city council and mayor desire that feedback from the community and base all of their decisions on it,” Bolz said. “We’re constantly looking for ways to do it whether it’s through social media or better ways to communicate things; excellence is a moving target so I think there’s always room for improvement.”
SPLOST VII will be on the ballot for a special election on March 16. Early voting is open now until March 12.For more information on the SPLOST VII special election, visit the Dawson County government website at https://www.dawsoncounty.org/splost/page/splost-vii.