The hot topics along with the biscuits and bacon at the annual Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce "State of the Community" breakfast Thursday morning were sewers, other capital projects, new housing developments and the push for another Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
“Sewer is not an exciting topic for most of these people, but it is for you guys,” said chamber President and CEO Rob Bradham, who moderated the event.
“You never think as mayor that you are going to come in promoting sewers and flushing toilets,” Cohutta Mayor Ron Shinnick said. “It’s a dirty topic, I guess.”
The event at the Dalton Convention Center featured the mayors in Whitfield County and county Board of Commissioners Chairman Lynn Laughter.
The main topic of discussion was getting a new SPLOST initiative on the ballot. A SPLOST is a 1% sales tax placed on most items sold in the county. SPLOST funds can only be spent on certain projects and cannot fund local governments' day-to-day operations.
Revenues from a SPLOST are divided among the county and the cities. In March, a proposed six-year, $100 million SPLOST was defeated by county voters. After that defeat, the county decided to create a citizen advisory committee that will make recommendations concerning future SPLOSTs, with the county commissioners having the final say. The committee had its first meeting Thursday night.
Whitfield County’s share of the March SPLOST would have been a projected $76.3 million. The county would have used that money to demolish Administrative Buildings 1 and 2 and replace them with a new taxpayer services building that would have housed the tax commissioner’s office and tax assessor’s office, and a new government services building that would have had all other county offices other than those related to the judicial system. The county also would have spent $19.2 million on road repaving and bridge repair, and $7.1 million to pay off some $4 million in bonds issued to build the fire station on South Riverbend Road, to make improvements to the animal shelter and to buy a new fire truck and sheriff’s office vehicles.
“I’ll just say publicly that I thought the plan we had the last time was a good 30-40-year plan,” Laughter said. “We had meetings — they weren’t well attended. What I think we didn’t anticipate correctly was that people didn’t like a six-year (tax) or two (new county) administrative buildings. By the time we realized the public feelings about that, it was too late.”
Shinnick said developing a SPLOST proposal that is acceptable to the voters is essential to improving and developing the smaller cities.
“For us to do capital projects, it really is critical,” Shinnick said. “What is unique about our county is that each community really is unique and I think that is a good thing. We face some really interesting issues as we maneuver through our budgets. The SPLOST really gives us that opportunity to do something unique for our communities that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do for a long, long time.”
Concerning the citizen advisory committee, “The county did decide — and I think this was the right decision — to maintain final say, because we are elected to make those hard decisions,” Laughter said. “It should fall on our laps — as it did when it failed — to approve those projects or not. Every single commissioner — and I am sure I speak for the mayors and every single city council-person — are committed to taking very seriously what this committee recommends to be put on the next SPLOST.”
Dalton Mayor Dennis Mock encouraged the members of the audience and the advisory committee members to remember what the first two letters of the acronym "SPLOST" stand for.
“I hope they think big,” Mock said. “Our capital budget is fairly strong. We are going to try to use what money we have for capital, and SPLOST is a ‘special purpose.’ We need to put in special things.”
Each of the mayors and Laughter highlighted new businesses coming into the community as well as advances in the local housing market with new construction and various planned living spaces either completed or in development. The business environment was complimented by Mock, who said various economic opportunities for growth are brought to the city’s attention on a “daily basis.”
“It is like fishing — you don’t land them all,” Mock said. “But we are getting many more looks about potential businesses locating here and I think we are on a good roll economically to keep that going.”
On Wednesday, Mock told members of the City Council during a work session about talks he has had with a developer interested in placing a hotel near the convention center. He said the developer said his company "is ready to do something."