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SPLOST is a Tax, Think Carefully

Forsyth County News (FCN)
Sunday, October 16, 2011
By Steve Voshall      Forsyth County Tea Party

[Ed. The following source document is the basis for the October 16, 2011
position paper in FCN by Steve Voshall]

First and most importantly, a SPLOST is a TAX.  SPLOST VII is not about the jail, it’s about yet another tax for another 6 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 $60m 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.

We have had practically no public meetings on SPLOST VII and have been limited on any real information.  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 $200m tax.  We have asked why the land the county bought for $7m in 2008 for the new jail is suddenly not buildable.  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 Court room for the Magistrate judges.  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.  When we finally had a Town Hall meeting AFTER the early voting had started we were finally able to see a picture of what the Courthouse, Jail, and Parking Deck will look like in our City and it is shockingly huge ugly and a total eyesore and will ruin our downtown landscape.  This is not what we want our City to look like and this is not what we came up with a few years ago when hundreds of business leaders worked on the Vision 2020 project for the Chamber.

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 State SPLOST passes before we vote on our SPLOST VII.  If they both pass we could have an 8% 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.  SPLOST VI is 17% behind on revenue and we feel SPLOST VII will suffer even worse if we aren’t careful and rush this process.

Our economy is in a double dip recession with unemployment pushing 9% and a decimated real estate market.  This 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%.  The economic activity (consumer expenditures that generate sales taxes) from the housing market in 2006 was $372,000,000 but it has plummeted to $14,000,000, down 96%.   Homeowner equity is down 27% 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% 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 3 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 $200m 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 $200m 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 court house 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.