The Liberty County Chamber of Commerce hosted the “Eggs & Issues” breakfast Thursday at the Performing Arts Center as a way to kick off its promotion for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax VI.
The event was attended by community leaders, business owners and concerned citizens.
The event’s first guest speaker, Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette, began by referencing his part in Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for Armstrong State University’s Liberty Center. He then reminded everyone how SPLOST funds were responsible for other higher-education projects in the community, including the commercial driver’s license classes and labs at Savannah Tech.
Lovette was followed by Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown, who explained that SPLOST funds can be used only for capital projects, not salaries. SPLOST is a tax that is administered by the county commissioners, who distribute the funds throughout the county.
“I’m very proud to be a part of a community where SPLOST has been approved five times previously,” Brown said.
Referring to slides, he noted that over the last five years, the county has used SPLOST funds for $53.8 million to build or repair roads, bridges and drainage. He said SPLOST funds also were used for several other capital projects, including $9.865 million for recreation, $11.085 million for public safety, $4.523 million for hospitals and emergency services and $44.83 million for public infrastructure.
Brown’s next slide focused on capital projects that have been completed, including the justice center; courthouse renovations; countywide fire protection; Record Retention Center; Liberty Annex East End; EMS improvements; Hinesville City Hall; an interoperable communication system; historical/cultural preservation like the Midway Museum and Dorchester Academy; and MidCoast Regional/Wright Army Airfield.
Ongoing projects include a new library, roads, drainage, expanding the county jail, recreation, animal control and public-safety equipment.
After completing the slide presentation and before taking questions, Brown reminded everyone that SPLOST funds can only be spent on what’s on the ballot. He asked for those who fight against it because they oppose one or two items due for allocation to “not to throw the baby out with the bath water.”
“This is one of the most important business decisions that needs to be made,” he said, explaining that there are about 65,000 people who would pay that 1-cent tax on goods and services, but only about 13,000 people paying property taxes. “I would encourage you to vote. I can’t tell you how to vote, but please vote.”
Entrepreneur George Holtzman stood and addressed Brown and other guests.
“I know I’m speaking to the choir here this morning, but there are a lot of naysayers out there who see this as just another tax,” he said. “We all need to get out there and explain the importance of SPLOST.”
Brown agreed, saying the biggest scare with the SPLOST referendum is voter apathy.
Jeff Ricketson said he’d heard the last SPLOST vote was close and asked if it was due to apathy or opposition. Brown said it probably was apathy as it had a low voter turnout. He confirmed another Ricketson question that this is the first time SPLOST is on the ballot as part of a general election.
Mayor Jim Thomas reminded everyone that Hinesville and Liberty County represent one of the fastest-growing areas in the state, which he attributed to SPLOST money that has been well-spent toward education, public safety and infrastructure.
Chamber CEO Leah Poole, who also leads the Hinesville Area Arts Council, said she’s aware the importance of SPLOST not only for business development but also cultural.
She said there will be a series of community meetings about SPLOST over the next several weeks. The first happened Thursday at the HAAC gallery. Meetings in Midway, Riceboro and Gum Branch are scheduled for later this month.
The SPLOST election is Nov. 4.