Liberty County and Hinesville city officials miss the funding brought by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Voters rejected renewing the tax in November, and it officially expired April 1, dropping the county’s overall sales-tax rate to 6 percent.
Getting the SPLOST back was an important discussion topic during the county-wide planning workshop held Wednesday and Thursday on St. Simons Island.
City and county officials brainstormed on ways they could promote SPLOST to residents. They identified some obstacles, such as low voter turnout and opposition. But the main obstacle identified were people being misinformed or uniformed on the tax.
On March 23, the Liberty County Board of Commissioners held a meeting to discuss the renewal of SPLOST and gather input from members of the public and officials from other local governments.
According to the meeting minutes, attendees saw a description of proposed projects, heard about the benefits of SPLOST and identified key individuals to help with renewal efforts.
Though that was used as an opportunity to inform residents, workshop attendees decided to start a grassroots campaign, with one-on-one outreach to address questions and concerns.
“We’re always trying to get people to come to our meetings,” Walthourville City Council member Luciria Lovette said. “Let’s go to where the people are and talk to them.”
The campaign will be headed by a county-wide “champion” team, which will be led by a non-government spokesperson. The team will go to different communities to interact with residents, gather input and build support. The deadline to form the champion team and appoint a team leader is June.
Workshop attendees also decided to implement other steps for promoting SPLOST generated at last year’s workshop. Those included using social media, creating a fact sheet about the tax, list projects accomplished through the previous SPLOST and train public employees to respond to residents’ questions or concerns about the tax.
Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said the commissioners have not voted on a date for the next SPLOST referendum, but they have discussed the possibility of putting it on the ballot in November 2016.
Making Liberty County a recognizable brand was another major issue discussed at the workshop. The phrase “The right blend,” is currently used by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce. Chamber CEO Leah Poole said workshop attendees decided it would make sense to use that as the county’s slogan.
The plan is for businesses, municipalities, the school district and residents to associate the county with “the right blend” brand and think of Liberty County as a great place to live. Leaders felt that branding Liberty will attract more tourists and businesses and inform residents on what the county has to offer. Their plan includes placing the slogan on poles and at events, and creating a committee of tour guides to promote Liberty’s history and culture.
A how-to guide for establishing a business in Liberty County, for big and small businesses, will be created through a partnership involving the Chamber, Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, Liberty County Development Authority and Hinesville Downtown Development Authority.
Leaders discussed the need to evaluate the process of opening a business and changing the negative perception of doing so. Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said he has heard complaints that it is hard to open a business in the city.
In response, the group decided that a guide is needed to provide information on where to go for licenses, permits and requirements. Workshop attendees said they would like the guide to be completed in three to six months.