Advisory committee will have input but no final say on SPLOST projects

(Editor's note: To apply for the SPLOST 2020 advisory committee, click here.)

A citizens panel will have a say in selecting projects that would be funded by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that is expected to be put before Whitfield County voters in the May 2020 general primary. But they won't have the final say.

The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to create a SPLOST 2020 advisory committee to help select the projects.

In April, commissioners heard from Floyd County Commission Vice Chairman Wright Bagby and that county's manager, Jamie McCord, about that county's process for developing a SPLOST.

For Floyd County and its two municipalities -- Cave Spring and Rome -- a citizens group makes the final decisions on what projects are presented to voters for each SPLOST. The committee members are selected by the three government bodies, and there are no elected officials on the committee. Proposals for projects are made by the governments and also by private citizens, and the committee members evaluate all proposals before coming up with a final list of projects.

The Whitfield committee won't have the same powers.

"We have to have the final say," said Commissioner Roger Crossen.

Board Chairman Lynn Laughter said elected officials have a responsibility to make the final decision on which projects will be placed before voters.

Instead, commissioners and the councils of each of the four cities in Whitfield County -- Dalton, Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell -- will each develop lists of projects to be funded and bring them to the advisory committee, which will discuss the projects and make recommendations. Then each of the local governments will put together a final list to be placed on the ballot.

The committee will be comprised of 16 people and two alternates. Each commissioner will appoint two members to the committee. And the board will appoint one alternate. The Dalton City Council will appoint three members and one alternate, and the smaller cities will appoint one member each.

People can apply through the county website, www.whitfieldcountyga.com, starting today. Paper applications can be picked up at Administration Building 1, 301 W. Crawford St. All applicants can go online or pick up an application and county officials will forward them to officials in the cities. The application deadline is July 1 at 5 p.m.

To serve on the committee, a person must be a Whitfield County resident and have voted in three of the last four elections. A person appointed by a city council must reside in that city. A person appointed by a commissioner must resident in that commissioner's district. Elected officials and candidates for elected office may not serve on the commission.

Businessman Jevin Jensen says he is concerned about the requirement that advisory committee members must have voted in three of the past four elections, noting that exceeds the requirements to run for county commissioner which are only that a person be a resident of the county for 12 months and a qualified voter.

"While I personally would meet these requirements (for the advisory committee), I am worried we are excluding thousands of citizens who may want to participate," he said. "I fully agree the board of commissioners should be able to remove proposed projects by the committee which are found to be financially unsustainable or don't fit with the county's strategic plan. However, I do not feel the board of commissioners should be able to add a project back to the SPLOST list which the advisory committee specifically voted against. This defeats the purpose of getting the committee's input in my view."

A SPLOST is a 1% sales tax on most goods bought in the county. It can only fund projects and items; a SPLOST can't pay for general operations.

The current four-year SPLOST expires on June 30 and is projected to collect $64 million. That SPLOST funded a new emergency radio system for first responders, new fire trucks for both the Dalton and Whitfield fire departments, and Dalton's Haig Mill Lake Park, among other projects.

In a March special election, voters rejected a six-year, $100 million SPLOST that would have begun July 1. It would have funded two new Whitfield County administrative buildings in downtown Dalton, a new park in south Whitfield County near Southeast Whitfield High School and a new recreation building at Dalton's John Davis Recreation Center on Civic Drive, among other projects.

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