Editorial: Citizen advisory committee should also determine if another SPLOST is needed

Do Whitfield County and the cities of Cohutta, Dalton, Tunnel Hill and Varnell even need another Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST)?

That was a question a SPLOST citizen advisory committee member raised during the group's second meeting last Wednesday night. That discussion never got off the ground.

Whitfield County Board of Commissioners members formed the committee with the idea that members would take SPLOST project ideas from local governments and also the public, then after a vetting process recommend which projects should be placed on a SPLOST resolution, possibly for an election in 2020. None of the committee's recommendations are binding; those are rightly left to our elected officials.

The committee is made up of 16 people and two alternates: 10 representatives selected by the commissioners, three selected by the Dalton City Council and one each from the municipalities of Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell. The alternates were selected by the Board of Commissioners and the Dalton City Council.

In a March special election, voters rejected a six-year, $100 million SPLOST that would have begun July 1. It would have funded two new Whitfield County administrative buildings in downtown Dalton, a new park in south Whitfield County near Southeast Whitfield High School and a new recreation building at Dalton's John Davis Recreation Center on Civic Drive, among other projects. A SPLOST is a 1% tax on most goods sold in the county that can only be used for capital spending and special projects. The final numbers are not in yet, but the most recent SPLOST was on target to collect $64 million.

Are voters against SPLOSTs? That doesn't appear to be the case, as local voters have traditionally supported them and also Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes, which fund public school projects.

Or were they against one or more of the projects on the March ballot? Many voters opposed the two new administrative buildings, viewing them as a waste of tax dollars.

The committee's third meeting is Tuesday night at 6 in the fifth floor conference room of the Wells Fargo building, 201 S. Hamilton St. The meeting is open to the public. During that meeting, committee members are expected to hear presentations from the Whitfield County Fire Department and the Grant Farm project off of Crow Valley Road that is the entrance to a mountain bike trail planned for 600 acres of county-owned land on Rocky Face Ridge.

Whether Whitfield County needs another SPLOST is a legitimate question, one that we hope committee members study intensely, then report their findings to our elected officials.

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