Friday, October 17, 2008

Oconee Preparing for March SPLOST Election

But IDDs and TADs on November Ballot

While many voters are still focused on the upcoming November election, the County is about to launch a campaign to get voters to approve a renewal of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) of 1 cent on the dollar at a special election on March 17, 2009.

The first of two public information sessions on the proposed SPLOST renewal will be on Oct. 21 and it will be followed by a second on Nov. 3. Both meetings will begin at 7 p.m. at the Oconee County Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road.

The hearings are not designed to get public input on whether to move forward with the tax, but on what should be included in it. The SPLOST has to specify in general terms how the money will be spent.

The BOC plans to create its list of projects at its Nov. 25 meeting and then vote to put the issue on the ballot at its Dec. 2 meeting.

The county currently receives three of the seven cents in sales taxes collected in the county, with the state getting the remaining four cents. One cent of the local tax goes to the local school system. Another goes into the general fund of the county. The third is for special projects of the county.

If voters do not approve the renewal of the current SPLOST, it will expire in 2009 and the local sales tax will drop to six cents.

Local Farmland Protection advocate Russ Page is working to get farmland protection included by the BOC among the SPLOST projects. He has created a memo explaining the value of Farmland Protection, a questionnaire asking for opinions on the issue, and a petition that can be signed to support including Farmland Protection among the SPLOST projects.

The Oconee County Advisory Committee on Recreational Affairs also is taking advantage of the SPLOST meeting on Oct. 21 to schedule a discussion of greenways, rails to trails and connectivity between parks, schools and neighborhoods.

The meeting, to be held at the Civic Center and to begin at 6 p.m., will feature guest speakers Mike Wharton from Athens-Clarke Leisure Services and John Devine from the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center.

The November ballot also contains two amendments that have stirred the interest of environmental groups.

The Georgia Water Coalition, an alliance of 150 organizations committed to ensuring that water is managed fairly for all Georgians and protected for future generations, has called for a Yes vote on Amendment 1 and a No vote on Amendment 3. Friends of Barber Creek is part of the Georgia Water Coalition.

Amendment 1 is to help preserve tracts of forest land 200 acres or greater throughout the state. Under the Act, landowners could enter a 15-year covenant to protect the tracts from development and, in return, receive a property tax reduction. Among the supporters are the Georgia Forestry Association.

Amendment 3 would permit counties to give developers the power to create special districts called infrastructure development district (IDDs) that would issue tax-free bonds to finance infrastructure for large, private residential communities. The developers would be given the power to levy taxes to pay any costs incurred in development. The counties will be required to collect the taxes for the IDDs.

Amendment 2 has attracted less attention. It would allow counties, municipalities and local boards of education to use tax funds for redevelopment. Earlier this year the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that local governments cannot use school property tax revenue to help finance redevelopment projects.

Amendment 2 would allow for the creation of tax allocation districts (TADs) to stimulate redevelopment in areas were development was otherwise unlikely. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has called for passage. In Athens, flagpole has called for its defeat.

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