After the race to pick Walker’s next sole commissioner, the only other heated contest up for a vote this week is the decision to continue SPLOST. SPLOST, the SPecial Local Option Sales Tax, is a 1% or one-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax applied to every purchase conducted in Walker County. SPLOST is always temporary and has to be voted back into existence every five years. Every twenty years it falls on a regular election year, which is why it’s up for a vote at the same time as Commissioner and the other 4-year jobs.
Let’s take a little closer look at the details of SPLOST’s ballot measure and see what we can learn about its intentions and purposes. The SPLOST measure is explained pretty well on the electronic ballot screen voters will be seeing Tuesday, but even with all the detail provided there some smaller points are left out. For the full text of the measure we have to go to the local paper and look in the classified section. Last Wednesday’s Messenger details the whole thing as an announcement in the classifieds, on page B3. It’s also located on the Messenger Web site, but may not be there long since most things there disappear after only a few weeks.
The tax is predicted to bring in 38 million dollars over five years. That $38 million is divided up between the general county government and the incorporated cities within the county, but there are no specific percentages or dollar figures attached to any of the municipalities. The bill goes into detail about bonds, apparently the county (and the city of LaFayette) will take out bonds to cover the up-front costs of any work done with the SPLOST funds and then use the tax revenue as it comes in to pay the bonds down.
One notable bit in the SPLOST measure is where it promises benefits to the city of Fort Oglethorpe for “the improvement of water and sewer services, public safety vehicles and equipment, and road street and bridge purposes..” That’s great for the city of Ft. Oglethorpe, especially since 97.5% of the city is within Catoosa County and gets a significant amount of tax revenue from that county as well. In fact the sum total of Ft.O residents in Walker County is 185 – 185 people out of the nearly 7,000 living in Fort Oglethorpe. But they get a big slice of SPLOST pie too, as big or bigger than what residents of unincorporated Walker County will recieve. Of all the cities “in” Walker County (if you can even say Ft.O is in the county at all) it’s the most able to raise its own funds and pave its own roads from its considerably larger and wealthier tax base. This is not where SPLOST money taken from Walker County residents should be directed.
Beyond specifying where the money is to be spent, SPLOST’s ballot measure is extremely broad in what exactly it should be spent on. Improvements for roads and bridges, public safety vehicles and equipment, buildings, sewers, fire hydrants, acquisition, construction.. Almost anything can go into those broadly defined categories. The measure is so broad in its designations that it essentially doesn’t designate the funds for anything at all, leaving their disbursement up to the discretion of the county’s government. The county’s government with its sole commissioner who has no fetters beyond those imposed by matters of insurance or legal liability.
$38 million in cash, with no specifically designated purpose beyond where it can be spent, controlled by a sole individual who has to run for reelection every 4 years. What does that translate into? A defacto pay-off fund for whoever ends up being the county commissioner, a pile of cash they can distribute to any project or part of the county they desire, based on need, public demand, or pure political convenience.
Who’s been good boys and girls this year? Apparently the wealthier residents of LaFayette have been, they just celebrated the opening of their new $2 million SPLOST-funded golf course clubhouse and spent SPLOST funds to build another runway for city’s rarely-used airport. County residents living out in Kensington just got their treat, $3.5 million of state and SPLOST funds spent to buy more land around Pigeon Mountain. A little taste of what will come if they line up and vote against Kensington resident Andy Hames in the Republican Primary. And Chickamauga, well.. Little Chickamaga is the favored child who never did anything wrong. Citizens of Chickamauga know what’s in store for them when they vote to reestablish SPLOST.
Who’s been bad? The residents of Villanow and East Armuchee have been getting coal in their stockings ever since overwhelmingly favoring Buddy Chapman during his last failed campaign against Bebe. No new pavement, no firetrucks, not even a flashing yellow light at the dangerous intersection of highways 201 and 136. But that’s all about to change, because the commissioner has promised East Armuchee citizens a big payoff – but only if they vote for her and vote for SPLOST.
A recent letter mailed to residents of West Armuchee details Bebe’s plans for a new community center there, to be built using SPLOST-derived tax dollars. According to the letter this magical new facility will be a satellite office for the county sheriff, will have a bookmobile, a blood bank, a veterinary clinic, a trash collection and recycling center, walking trails, a playground, college-level classes, activites for children and seniors, a new fire station, a farmers’ market, movie screenings, a tornado shelter, and much much more. But the letter spells out the consequences of not fully embracing the SPLOST religion:
“Your vote on July 15 for continued SPLOST funding is a vote FOR the proposed community center. A negative SPLOST vote in our precinct likely will be interpreted throughout the county as meaning our community does not want and is not supportive of the community center. Therefore, our center could lose its priority status and designated funding may be directed to other communities that DO support the SPLOST and the local projects it funds.” (Emphasis from original.)
So there you have it. If you don’t vote for SPLOST by an overwhelming majority, the county will feel like you don’t want its present and will give the gift to one of the better behaved children. Guido Corleone couldn’t have spelled it out any clearer: A vote against SPLOST in Villanow guarantees another five years of funnelling tax money from East Armuchee residents into projects that benefit other parts of the county.
“In one sense, the proposed community center may be absolutely free for us. However, if our precinct votes negatively for SPLOST but it passes the entire county, the funds could possibly be redirected to another community (as described above) and we would get nothing. If this happens, the residents of our community would be paying the one-percent SPLOST but getting nothing in return for our community.” (Again emphasis from the original.)
In case the earlier part was too vauge, there it is spelled out even clearer. If Villanow doesn’t get on board the SPLOST train they’ll be left behind. Because the county is just dying to provide services to Villanow and East Armuchee, services that it can’t provide now without a new building. Or it can but refuses to because the county government doesn’t give a whiff about Armuchee until there’s a close election like the one being held this week.
Does ANYONE really think the county will provide these extra services? Even if the “proposed” (notice not GUARANTEED – the only promise here is that nothing will happen as result of a ‘no’ vote) center is costructed, most of the promises surrounding it are pure shite. The county could already be providing most of what’s been promised about the community center but it doesn’t. The blood mobile could come to the existing fire hall, but it doesn’t. (The bookmobile used to go there but Bebe gutted the library’s budget for that two elections ago.) Movies could be shown there, a farmers’ market could be held there, the county could even put out a dumpster like Chattanooga County manages to do, but they won’t. Because it’s all a pile of crap wrapped up in a bow. There will be no new community center and no new services even if there is a SPLOST renewal, because the citizens of East Armuchee are just being played and tricked into voting for something that will never provide them any benefit as long as Bebe and her Chickamauga Mafia are running the county.
But that’s what you already have, and have had every year for the last five decades except for the four years Buddy Chapman was commissioner and paid a bit of attention to what went on on the county’s extreme eastern end. Bebe hasn’t given Villanow anything in the last eight years, so why are the people out there buying it when she promises them the sky now? She hasn’t provide as much as a dumpster, why should anyone expect her to provide a new community center with staff and all the other perks?
It’s not just the mentally-challenged Villanow Community Center Committee scrambling to get a little taste of SPLOST, government agencies and special interests all over the county are working hard to convince votes that higher taxes are in their best interest. There’s a line in SPLOST promising funds for a brand new library in the city of LaFayette, so it’s no coincidence that the old library has been displaying a SPLOST sign out front for months. Same at the new LaFayette clubhouse and the airport, there are several SPLOST signs up there too. And if that wasn’t enough, many county residents arrived at worship services Sunday morning to find freshly minted YES FOR SPLOST signs planted in front of their churches like so many wild mushrooms.
Who planted the signs in the middle of the night on a weekend? Your guess is as good as mine. The signs don’t even have names on them, it’s unclear who actually paid to have the advertisements made. That’s why SPLOST always passes the vote, it has some very very well organized supporters who take advantage of laws that allow them to campaign for issues without admitting who they are. For all I know the signs themselves were printed up with leftover SPLOST funds and put out by employees of government agencies that benefit from the extra tax revenue. It’s happened before, look at my previous article and scroll down to the part about Bebe signs in 2000.
Many make the argument that without SPLOST county property taxes will go up. And that may be true, to a certain extent. But when property taxes go up, there are more controls on how that money actually gets spent. A set percentage of property tax revenues go to the school system, a set percentage goes to the fire department, and the rest goes to the county’s regular budget. A budget approved ahead of time based on need, not approved on the fly based on political expediency. And property taxes would be paid more by the wealthiest people who actually benefit from all those special projects like golf courses and airports instead of being paid mostly by the poorer people who can’t afford to leave the county to shop.
The bottom line is this: a vote for SPLOST is a vote for county politics the way they’ve always been, a vote for a system that benefits the wealthiest ten percent of county residents, and a vote for giving the county commissioner (whoever it ends up being) unrestricted funds that can be used to bribe and cajole and even punish local voters. If you’re happy with things the way they’ve always been and the way they are, vote for it. Or just don’t vote at all, let the pro-SPLOST voters decide for you. But if you want change, want a county government held responsible for its actions, a county government with accountability for where it spends its money and a reduction in favortism, vote against the SPLOST measure on July 15th.
…more coming soon.