With general elections only four months away, politicians are moving into full-on campaign mode. But gubernatorial, congressional and senate candidates aside, Liberty County voters will face another decision at the ballot box this November — a referendum for a special purpose local option sales tax, better known as SPLOST.
The upcoming referendum, if passed, will mark Liberty County’s sixth SPLOST period. The current period will close at the end of March 2015, and the new period — should voters approve it — would start April 1.
SPLOST VI would be a six-year program. According to the SPLOST guidebook, published by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, “Several factors determine the length of time that a SPLOST may be imposed. In general, the tax may be levied for up to five years. If the county and qualified municipalities enter into an intergovernmental agreement, the tax may be imposed for six years.”
Liberty County has entered into an intergovernmental agreement with Hinesville, Allenhurst, Flemington, Gum Branch, Midway, Riceboro and Walthourville, which qualifies the SPLOST to run for six years.
The total revenue to be generated by SPLOST VI is projected at roughly $54 million. Because Liberty County currently is in a SPLOST period and the proposed referendum would take effect as soon as the current period ends, taxpayers would not actually see any increase in sales tax. SPLOST VI, if approved, would essentially make a seamless transition from the current SPLOST period and sales taxes would not fluctuate.
One thing that voters should keep in mind, however, is that if the SPLOST referendum fails to pass, property owners will almost certainly see an increase in tax rates. Liberty County Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin has made it clear that the Liberty County Justice Center bond payments and public-safety vehicle expenses have not been provided for in the county’s operating budget, because those items are included in the SPLOST referendum.
In his state-of-the-county address June 19, County Administrator Joey Brown described the “transient” nature of Liberty County as it relates to tax revenue. Due to the disproportionate number of land owners to non-permanent residents, such as soldiers and contractors working on Fort Stewart, a 1-percent sales tax across the board is an easy means for everyone who utilizes Liberty County infrastructure to pitch in toward its improvement.
The Liberty County Chamber of Commerce soon will begin its SPLOST campaign, and informational meetings will be held in upcoming months, during which voters can pose questions to local government officials.
Citizens also are encouraged to attend monthly county commission and city council meetings to direct questions to their elected leaders.