Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Oconee County Commissioners Move Forward With Plan For Nov. 2 Vote On Transportation Sales Tax

***Would Increase County Sales Tax From 7 Percent To 8***

Oconee County commissioners on Tuesday night took the first step to place a new 1 percent Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on the ballot in November.

Following a presentation by Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell, the three members of the Board present, without a formal vote, agreed that Daniell should meet on July 1 with representatives of the county’s four cities to outline the referendum.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Daniell said revenue from the tax would be used for four purposes: to cover transportation costs already being funded by the county by property tax, to create new revenue for multi-use paths, for intersection improvements, and for paving.

The county should be able to reduce the property tax rate as a result of shifting some of the current spending on transportation from the General Fund to projects covered by the new tax, Daniell said.

The new tax, if approved by the voters, would bring the sales tax in line with that of Clarke County, which approved a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in November of 2018.

The current sales tax rate in Oconee County is 7 percent, and approval of the new tax would increase it to 8 percent.

Timetable And Details

Daniell said the Board of Commissioners will have to vote by Aug. 3 to get the referendum on the tax on the ballot for the Nov. 2 ballot. It might be the only county-wide item before voters.

Daniell, With Commissioners Mark Thomas,
Amrey Harden, Mark Saxon (L-R), 6/29/2021

Daniell said he had talked to mayors of the cities and thought they would want to participate, though their agreement isn’t necessary for the county to move forward.

The ballot language will cap the TSPLOST at $56 million. The tax, if approved, would go into effect in April of 2022 and would run for five years or until it reached the cap.

If the cities agree to participate, Bishop would get 0.68 percent of the tax revenue, Bogart would get 2.72 percent, North High Shoals would get 1.98 percent, and Watkinsville would get 8.63 percent.

These percentages are based on population and are the same percentages as those used in the renewal of the 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax approved by voters in November.

The new tax would be on the same items as those covered by SPLOST, including groceries, but would not cover gasoline, which is covered by a separate state gasoline sales tax.

Four percent of the sales tax collected in the county goes to the state.

Oconee County voters approved extension of the 1 percent Education Local Option Sales Tax in March.

Calculation Of County Funds

The TSPLOST referendum would not include a specific project list but would include the four categories spelled out by Daniell on Tuesday night.

While the cap would be $56 million, the county’s share would be just more than $48 million, once the city amounts are distributed.

Daniell said the county would budget based on collection of only about 79 percent of the $48.

That means the county is expecting to receive $38 million as its share of the income, rather than $48 million.

The cap is set high to make sure the tax runs the full five years allowed before renewal via a referendum is required.

Allocation Of County Funds

Based on the expected $38 million, $10.5 million (27.7 percent) would be allocated to Related Services.

Document From Daniell, 6/30,2021

County Manager Justin Kirouac told me in an email on Wednesday that these are “transportation infrastructure related services that we currently fund out of General Fund that could be transferred to TSPLOST funding.”

“This would afford the ability to contemplate a millage rate decrease with the next budget to provide property tax relief,” Kirouac said, elaborating on Daniells’ comments on Tuesday night.

The referendum would allocate $3 million (7.9 percent) to Multi-Use Paths, $4 million (10.5 percent) to Safety/Intersections, and $20.5 million (53.9 percent) to Paving.

Daniell said on Tuesday night he would recommend “creating a task force to review the path plan to look at what staff's recommending and get the community input on prioritizing those pathways.”

At present, multi-use paths for Hog Mountain Road and for Daniells Bridge Road are included in the MACORTS (regional transportation body) planning documents, at the county's request.

Intersections And Paving

Daniell said the category Safety And Intersection Improvements would include such things as the joint roundabout projects underway in the county with the Georgia Department of Transportation, adding stop lights, and extending travel lanes “like what we did on Hog Mountain Road.”

“Of course the big portion would go to paving,” Daniell said on Tuesday night.

The projected revenue would cover 71 miles, Daniell said, allowing the county to “to get those lowest rated roads taken care of.”

Daniell said the county estimates it needs to spend about $5 million each year on paving, but it only doing about half of that at present, using General Funds and SPLOST revenue.

Daniell said the county is doing a study of the actual depth and character of the roads in the county.

“If we move forward the TSPLOST, by the time that we start collecting on it we'll have that study in and can pretty much publish--here's kind of the order we're going to try to go,” Daniell said.

The goal, he said, is to have a “true paving plan for the next 15-20 years.”

Voting History

Daniell has been discussing at the need for a TSPLOST referendum since 2018, and he mentioned it in the State of the County meeting in March and the Town Hall Meeting earlier this month.

Voters narrowly defeated the first Local Option Sales Tax referendum in 1980 but approved that same tax–which does not need voter approval for its continuation–in 1982. That also is a 1 percent tax.

Oconee County voters have approved every Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and Education Local Option Sales Tax on the ballots since.

In 2012, however, Oconee County voters overwhelmingly rejected (65.0 percent against) a 12-county regional Transportation Local Option Sales Tax, which only Clarke County voters in the group approved.

Clarke County then approved its own county TSPLOST in November of 2018.

Across the state, 97 of the 159 counties have a transportation sales tax on place.

Of Oconee’s neighboring counties, however, only Morgan, Oglethorpe, and Clarke currently collect the tax.

Action Taken

“Any objections to continuing on to the next step?” Daniell asked after the discussion on Tuesday night.

Each of the three commissioners present indicated he should go forward.

Commissioner Chuck Horton was not in attendance.

The meeting on Tuesday lasted a little more than 50 minutes, but the Board voted at the close of the regular meeting to go into executive session to discuss “personnel, land acquisition, and litigation.”

The Board was in executive session for another 50 minutes but took no action when it returned to open session and then promptly adjourned.


I did not attend the BOC meeting on Tuesday, but I watched remotely via Zoom.

The video below is from the Zoom recording, uploaded to YouTube by the county.

Daniell began his comments on TSPLOST at 42:49 in the video.

Daniell provided me the chart above on Wednesday in response to my questions about his presentation at the meeting.

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