Members of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners want active, engaged Whitfield County residents to be on the 2020 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) citizens committee. We wholeheartedly agree with that desire.
The committee of 16 people and two alternates will be tasked with coming up with, vetting and recommending to commissioners the SPLOST projects that will be on the ballot. Commissioners will pick 10 members; the Dalton City Council will pick three; and elected officials in Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell will pick one each. They will choose from a pool of applicants. To apply, go to www.whitfieldcountyga.com and click on SPLOST 2020 Advisory Committee Application. The application deadline is July 1 at 5 p.m.
Although commissioners haven't yet decided on a date for the SPLOST vote, they are considering it coincide with the May 19, 2020, general primary. 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, which is projected to collect $64 million, expires in 14 days.
Whitfield County has never had such a committee, but after voters soundly rejected the proposed SPLOST in March by a 57.94% to 42.06% margin, commissioners decided to seek more input from the community.
In April, two Floyd County officials briefed commissioners on the county's process for developing a SPLOST project list. For Floyd County and its two cities -- Cave Spring and Rome -- their citizens group makes the final decision on what SPLOST projects are on the ballot. In Whitfield County, however, the citizens advisory group holds no such power. We completely agree with commissioners that the citizens advisory group should do just that -- advise -- and not have the final say on the SPLOST projects. Voters elect commissioners to perform that task. They should never abdicate that huge responsibility.
While we again applaud commissioners for forming the citizens advisory group, we do not unequivocally support their application process. Our main concern is an apparent requirement that the citizens advisory group members have voted in "at least three of the last four elections."
Commissioners have set an artificial, arbitrary number that gives no accurate account of one's dedication to their civic duty of voting.
A 70-year-old Whitfield County resident who has voted in every local election in his or her life, except for the past two, would be ineligible for the committee. Conversely, a 70-year-old Whitfield County resident who in his or her life has only voted in the past three elections would be eligible. That incongruity doesn't make sense to us.
Who's left out by the commissioners' voting standard?
• The student who just graduated high school. Recently turning 18, he or she hasn't legally been able to vote. That person wants to be engaged in politics on a local level, but can't be on the committee.
• The member of the military who was stationed overseas but has returned home to Whitfield County after serving his or her country. Being thousands of miles away possibly in a combat zone, voting wasn't on top of mind for these veterans.
• The newly naturalized citizen from Mexico who painstakingly went through the process to become a U.S. citizen but didn't receive voting rights until recently would be disallowed from being on the committee.
• The Dalton resident who returned home in January to live, work and play. That person, while living out of town, could not legally vote here, but now wants to make an impact on his or her hometown.
• The young professional who just graduated college and moved to Whitfield County to live, work and play. This person was registered to vote in another city in another state, therefore disallowing that person from serving on this committee.
As you can see, the voting requirement excludes a diversity of thought, a diversity of experience, a diversity of age, a diversity of opinions. We ask that commissioners and the elected officials of our four town and city councils forgo the voting requirement for the citizens advisory committee.
Instead, they should focus on the applicants' overall skillsets, experiences and desire to serve our community.