Editorial: A SPLOST citizens group is a welcome idea, but questions remain

The citizens of Whitfield County spoke in March, defeating a six-year, $100 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that would have funded a multitude of projects.

Now, the citizens of Whitfield County may be asked to speak again -- but well before they vote on a future SPLOST.

Taking a cue from our neighbors to the southwest in Floyd County, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners is discussing forming a citizens group for the next SPLOST proposal. Although commissioners haven't yet decided on a date for the SPLOST vote, they are considering it coinciding with the May 19, 2020, general primary.

A SPLOST is a 1 percent 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. Voters turned down the proposed SPLOST in March by a 57.94% to 42.06% margin.

Last month, commissioners heard from Floyd County Commission Vice Chairman Wright Bagby and county manager Jamie McCord about the county's process for developing a SPLOST project list. Kudos to our commissioners for being open-minded and seeking opinions from officials in another county.

For Floyd County and its two cities -- Rome and Cave Spring -- a citizens group makes the final decision on what projects are presented to voters for the SPLOST. Those three governments pick the committee members. No elected officials are allowed on the committee. Project proposals come from city and county officials, as well as regular citizens. Committee members vet and debate the proposals before submitting a final project list.

Our commissioners have not yet decided if they will form a citizens advisory committee. While they have had discussions about it -- both publicly and privately -- there are plenty of unanswered questions:

• How would members be chosen?

• Who would chose the members?

• How many people would be on the committee?

• Should the cities of Cohutta, Dalton, Tunnel Hill and Varnell have representation?

• What would be the qualifications to be on the committee?

• Would any person or any groups automatically be excluded from the committee?

• Would the committee's decisions, like the group in Floyd County, be binding?

• How much oversight would commissioners have of the committee?

Commissioners must answer these questions correctly. If not, the citizens advisory committee would lack credibility. Voters could view the committee as nothing more than a rubber stamp for the commissioners.

We believe more citizen input on the future SPLOST project list is welcome, and we are anxious to see what commissioners decide.

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