Editorial: A time out needed to clarify SPLOST advisory committee details

The Whitfield County commissioners’ credibility took another hit Monday night. During a special called meeting they changed the rules for the proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) 2020 citizens advisory committee — this, after about 50 people had applied.

We were expecting a single vote to extend the committee application deadline from July 1 to legalize the “unanimous consensus” decision reached during their June 24 work session. But more changes were made while key questions remain unanswered.

In summary:

• The application deadline was extended by two weeks to July 15.

• The voting criteria required to serve on the committee was made more lenient and opportunities to serve on the committee expanded.

• Committee work will begin in August rather than July.

• The committee’s end date, planned for Jan. 13, 2020, is now uncertain because the SPLOST referendum may be placed on the November 2020 general election ballot instead of the May 2020 primary ballot.

In the span of three weeks we have used this space to applaud the commissioners’ decision to form a citizens SPLOST advisory committee; express concern about overly stringent qualification requirements; encourage citizens to engage; and chide commissioners for attempting to extend the application deadline without a formal vote. We remain disappointed in the commissioners’ sloppy planning process.

The good news: Commissioners voted to allow more citizens the opportunity to serve on the committee. They loosened, but did not eliminate, the restrictive voting history requirement while also allowing newer county residents, newly naturalized citizens and young people of recent voting age to apply. However, an opportunity was missed to require applicants to simply meet the same criteria placed on a candidate for office in Whitfield County.

The commissioners’ failure to decide the timing of a SPLOST referendum is unfair to applicants whose committee service could be extended well beyond January 2020.

Most important is the need for a clear committee charter. It’s tough enough for a committee of 16 to operate effectively without having clear deliverables. All we’ve been told is the committee will evaluate proposed projects and provide feedback.

We suggest the final committee report contain both supporting and dissenting opinions on each project, addressing the merits of each. Is it a Special Purpose project? Does it meet a long-term community need? What’s the project lifetime? What are the associated maintenance and operational (M&O) costs? And who will be assigned to help the committee members answer some of these critical questions as they work through project evaluation — especially the evaluation of M&O costs?

This SPLOST advisory committee’s success depends on the commissioners nailing down its charter and timing so it can get off to a productive start.

Asking volunteers to commit significant personal time in service to their community is a big “ask.” They deserve better than a moving target.

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