Nice Park for a Protest
Less than a month after Oconee County citizens approved a 1 cent on the dollar sales tax for the next six years, tax opponents are being asked to show up at an anti-tax rally on April 15 at Oconee Veterans Park.
No opposition surfaced for the March 17 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax renewal, which was approved by 71.2 percent of the 1,457 voters who turned out to vote. Those who went to the polls made up only 6.6 percent of the registered voters in the county.
The Tax Protest is being organized by Bill Mayberry, who ran unsuccessfully for coroner in the July Republican primary. Those interested are being asked to "join in a public display of protest, outrage, disbelief, bewilderment and anger" at 11 a.m. at the new county park.
No mention is made in the email flier Mayberry is circulating indicating which taxes, if any, are preferred. April 15, of course, is the deadline for filing federal and state income tax returns.
A review of the record of Oconee County votes on local sales taxes going back nearly 30 years indicates a broad base of support for that tax–at least among those who turn out to vote. Mary Lane in the Oconee County Board of Elections office pulled those records for me.
On Nov. 4, 1980, Oconee County voters narrowly turned down a 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax. Of the 4,206 persons who voted in that election, 49.6 percent voted in favor of the tax.
That was the last time the county ever put a sales tax vote before the voters at a major election when turnout generally is high.
In an election on Dec. 7, 1982, only 1,448 turned out to vote, and 74.7 percent of them approved.
That vote in 1982 put in place a tax that does not require renewal by voters and that today makes up one of three cents on the dollar collected by Oconee County for local use. The state also collects 4 cents on each dollar spent. Groceries are exempted from the state sales tax, but not the local sales taxes.
Voters in June of 1985 approved the first SPLOST overwhelmingly, with 96.6 percent voting affirmatively. SPLOST was renewed in 1987, 1991,1995, 1999 and 2003. All of these were by big margins, with the exception of 1987. That 1987 vote was the closest for a local sales tax after the 1982 LOST approval until the vote on March 17.
In September of 1997, voters approved the first Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax, again for 1 cent on the dollar. Voters renewed that tax in 2002 and again in 2006.
The 1,037 voters who approved the March 17 tax was the smallest number of voters to support a local sales tax back to and including the unsuccessful LOST vote in 1980, with the exception of the SPLOST renewal in 1987.
The records for the elections for the taxes prior to 1995 do not include the number of registered voters at the time of the vote, so it is not possible to compare turnout rates back beyond that point.
The 6.6 percent turnout rate on March 17 is the lowest since the SPLOST vote of 1995 and considerably below the 24.1 percent vote in the most recent ESPLOST vote in July of 2006.
The number of registered voters has more than doubled in the county since 1995, yet the number of people who voted in the SPLOST election was 332 fewer in 2009 compared with 1995.
The most recent tally of tax intake for SPLOST–March returns for January collections–was up slightly from a year earlier. The county has eight more months to collect on the current tax, and it should reach the projected amount of $25 million by that point–the end of November for September receipts.
The county would continue to collect the current SPLOST through the November collection regardless, and the new tax would take effect the following month, which would be the beginning of the next fiscal quarter. It will run for six years from that point.
Veterans Park, where the tax protestors are planning to meet on April 15, would have been an appropriate place for an anti-SPLOST protest as well.
To build the very beautiful and very large park, the county went into debt. The current SPLOST is and the SPLOST approved on March 17 will pay down that debt.
SPLOST cannot cover the operating costs for the park, however, which means the county has to cover those costs through other sources, such as from LOST and property taxes. A walk or drive around the park gives a sense of how extensive those maintenance costs are going to be as the park comes fully operational.
There also have been cost overruns with the project.
Whether the protestors will praise the county for raising taxes to build the park where the protest is being held or condemn the county for doing that remains to be seen.
Or perhaps the protestors will support SPLOST and other local taxes at the rally through their silence, as they did in the runup to the March 17 vote.