The Oconee County Board of Commissioners took the first step on Tuesday night to put a 1 percent Transportation Special Purpose Local Sales Tax referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.
A portion of the tax would be used to cover transportation projects normally included in the county’s general fund budget, allowing the county to reduce its property tax by 1 mill. The current county millage rate is 6.686.
Commission Chair John Daniell said he will meet with leaders of each of the county’s four cities on Thursday morning to determine if they will join in the referendum. If they agree, the county will share the $60 million in projected revenue from the tax.
The Board will vote to move forward with the referendum at its Aug. 2 meeting, under the schedule proposed by Daniell. The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration would act the next day to put the issue on the November ballot.
Daniell proposed that the scheduled Town Hall meeting on Aug. 23 be devoted to the tax.
The commissioners, without a formal vote, told Daniell to move forward with the plans for the tax referendum.
Voters turned down a similar referendum in November of 2021, and commissioners said they need to do a better job of explaining the tax before voters cast their ballots in November of this year.
Cole Springs Road
Much of the Tuesday agenda setting meeting was consumed with discussion of Cole Springs Road, which the county has closed before it intersects with SR 53, or Hog Mountain Road, because of safety concerns.
|Daniell, Center, Explains T-SPLOST Proposal 6/28/2022|
The road intersects with the state roadway at a 30 degree angle across from Clottfelter Road.
Daniell told the Board that conversations with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) have suggested that a roundabout similar to those being built at the nearby SR 53 intersections with Rays Church Road and Snows Mill Road is preferred.
Daniell said, GDOT has indicated that between $650,000 and $700,000 could be made available for the Cole Springs Road intersection improvement, but the total cost is likely to be about $3.1 million.
Daniell said that state Rep. Marcus Wiedower had helped the county identify the funding from GDOT.
The problem, Daniell said, is that the county does not have the funds to cover the remaining costs, and the time lag is likely to be about two years under any circumstance.
In the end, the commissioners asked Daniell to come back at the July 12 meeting with options, including opening the road up as is and spending money to correct the angle of the intersection to 90 degrees.
Daniell brought up the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) late in the meeting, which ran a little more than 70 minutes.
Voters turned down the referendum last November with 52.8 percent voting against the tax and 47.2 percent voting in favor.
Only 10.7 percent of the county’s voters cast a ballot in the election, which was the only issue on the ballot in the county.
At a Town Hall meeting later that month, a number of citizens asked that the commissioners consider putting the issue back on the ballot.
“We tried last year for this,” Daniell said on Tuesday night. “There’s been conversation in the community about wanting to try again.”
“So I just want to kind of go over the time line and talk a little bit about the money as kind of the next step,” he said.
Details Of Tax
Daniell said every city has to participate in T-SPLOST in order for the county to be able to ask for a full 1 percent tax. The current sales tax rate in the county is 7 percent, so the new tax would increase that to 8 percent.
The referendum will ask for $71 million, Daniell said, but the law has changed and the county can collect the tax for five years without seeking renewal even if it collects more than the $71 million listed in the tax.
The county actually would budget for $60 million, he said.
Bishop would receive $477,000, Bogart would receive $1.9 million, North High Schools would receive about $800,000, and Watkinsville would get $4.7 million, he said.
Oconee County will get $52.5 million.
Daniell said the county’s spending would be in four categories: Maintenance of roads currently being covered by property taxes, Multi-Use Paths, Safety and Intersection Improvements, and Paving.
Reduction In Property Tax
Spending on the first category, Maintenance, would result in the 1 mill reduction in the property tax, effective with the Fiscal Year 2024, Daniell said.
Collection of the tax would begin April 1 of 2023, Daniell said. The Fiscal Year 2024 Budget would take effect on July 1 of 2023.
Daniell said he will come back the Board on July 26 for further discussion of the tax.
Only Education Allowed
“I think probably what hurt us probably was the poor turnout of that election,” Commissioner Amrey Harden said of last year’s vote.
“But I also heard people have misinformation about T-SPLOST,” he said. “I mean it was wild information like we were going to have to send the money or share it with Athens. I mean just crazy stuff.”
“I just want to make sure we have a mechanism to make sure the facts (get out),” he said.
“The Board literally cannot promote it,” County Manager Justin Kirouac said. “You can educate. So we’re not allowed to promote.”
“You can’t use taxpayer dollars to fund the campaign,” Daniell said.
Daniell said he is hopeful some group will step forward to promote the T-SPLOST referendum without using public funds.
The video below was recorded via Zoom from the June 28 meeting.
Discussion of Cole Springs Road begins at 10:47 in the video.
Discussion of TSPLOST begins at 1:04:15 in the video.