Let tourists retire our local debt through SPLOST taxes

Published 5:09pm Friday, May 2, 2014

A few weeks ago at a local gas station on Tallahassee Highway, I happened to run into a friend of mine from Millbrook, Alabama that I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years. My friend Jon and I attended first grade together and have been friends ever since.
He and his family were passing through Bainbridge, traveling to reach the I-10 interstate to make their way to Disney World for a vacation. While stopped, Jon filled up his gas tank, bought a few snacks and a few drinks.
The sales tax generated by Jon’s purchases will help pave roads in our community, will help build parks and will help purchase needed equipment upgrades in the county.
Now, Jon and his family will most likely never enjoy the benefits of the projects that the sales tax he paid helped to fund. But because of the SPLOST tax, he helped fund those projects regardless.
In March, 108 professional anglers came to Bainbridge and Decatur County for a week to compete in a BASS tournament. Those guys, from all over the country, bought hundreds of gallons of gasoline, a lot of food, and various supplies.
The only reason those guys were in Bainbridge for the tournament is because of the facility at the boat basin, a SPLOST funded facility. And, at the same time, they generated thousands of dollars of additional SPLOST revenue by just being here. Compounding is a great thing.
SPLOST is Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, a one-cent sales tax that is shared by Decatur County and each of the four municipalities in the county. This revenue is used specifically to fund capital projects and improvements and is prohibited from being used to pay operational expenses.
The renewal of the SPLOST tax is on the May 20 ballot for the voters in Decatur County to approve. I urge each of you to approve this continuation of this tax.  It is not a new tax, but simply a continuation of a tax that has been collected for more than 20 years.
On the ballot, you will see a listing from the county and each municipality of projects that this tax would fund. Among those listings are several mentions of debt service.
I realize that in this day and time, there is an irrational exuberance to oppose all taxation. But in this case, for residents in Decatur County, particularly property owners, the continuation of this tax is vital.
It is vital because both Decatur County and the City of Bainbridge have incurred debt to fund previous SPLOST projects. In other words, they both borrowed money to fund projects and that debt is repaid with revenue generated from the SPLOST tax.
Should the voters decide to not renew this one-cent sales tax, the revenue to repay the debt would go away, but the debt would remain and would still have to be repaid.
In this scenario, the funds to repay that debt would have to come from the general fund. Thus, increases in property taxes would be forthcoming.
So as a property owner in the county, I would much rather the hundreds of thousands of people who pass through the county each year help retire that debt and pay for these projects than just the residents of Decatur County and the small percentage who own property.

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