The Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce has thrown its weight behind a proposed six-year, $100 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
"We think the community has made great strides over the past couple of years, and we think the SPLOST will help us continue to build on that momentum," said chamber President Rob Bradham Thursday morning at the chamber's Good Morning Dalton breakfast at the Dalton Convention Center.
Voters will decide the SPLOST's fate on March 19. The 1 percent sales tax is applied to most goods and services bought in the county. If approved, the SPLOST would begin on July 1 of this year and run for six years. There is currently a county-wide SPLOST that expires on June 30.
The current SPLOST funded a new emergency radio system for first responders, new firetrucks for both the Dalton and Whitfield fire departments, and a new county fire station near Cohutta. It also funded a new park at the Haig Mill reservoir and improvements at Lakeshore Park, among other "quality of life" improvements.
"We certainly have abundant data that tells us that quality of life and lack of available housing are the two primary reasons people choose not to live here," said Bradham. "This (proposed) SPLOST invests in our local quality of life through new recreational opportunities, investments in public safety and improvements downtown amongst other things."
If voters approve the SPLOST, Whitfield County would use more than $33 million to demolish the Administration 1 and 2 buildings and build two new administration facilities, renovate the old section of the courthouse and renovate the Gillespie Drive gymnasium for accountability court use.
The county would also use SPLOST funds for the design and construction of a park on land the county owns near Southeast Whitfield High School, improvements at the Grant Farm historical site and design and construction of a community center and additional athletic fields at Westside Park.
The city of Dalton would use $7.5 million of its share of SPLOST money to construct a new building for the John Davis Recreation Center and renovations to Heritage Park and to build a walking/biking trail to connect Haig Mill Lake Park to the Crown Mill area.
The chamber cannot campaign directly for the SPLOST, Bradham said, so it will help create a committee to run the campaign. Former Whitfield County Board of Commissioners chairman Mike Babb will be one of the main spokesmen for the committee, along with Bradham.
"I believe in this SPLOST, and I contacted each of the serving commissioners and told them that if they had no objections I would be happy to campaign for it," Babb said. "By law, they cannot campaign for it themselves."
Babb said residents of the south end of the county have been requesting a park there for many years.
"We bought the land for that park with the (current) SPLOST," said Babb. "This new SPLOST will allow us to take the next step, then we will have three major parks outside the city of Dalton — Edwards Park, Westside Park and this park on the south end."
Babb said he knows that the new administration buildings are controversial.
"Some people think these buildings are something the current commissioners just came up with," he said. "But when we bought that old church building (Administrative Building 2) back in 2001 or 2002 it was to put people into while the courthouse was being expanded. The county was only supposed to use it temporarily and then tear it down, but here we are 17 or 18 years later still using it. The church sold us that building and moved into a new one because it had issues, and those issues haven't gone away."
Built in the 1940s, Administrative Building 2, where commissioners hold their monthly meetings, isn't handicapped accessible, and officials say it has major plumbing issues.