Editorial: SPLOST citizen advisory committee's work begins Thursday night, but everyone can be part of the process

There have been several potholes some of our local elected officials have hit as they've navigated the road to establishing a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) citizen advisory committee.

Those roadblocks have been well-documented in this editorial space, and we won't revisit them today.

With the picks by the Cohutta and Tunnel Hill councils Tuesday night, the 16-person (with two alternates) SPLOST advisory committee has been finalized. The group's first meeting is Thursday night at 6 in the fifth floor conference room at the Wells Fargo building, 201 S. Hamilton St. The meeting is open to the public, along with all other committee meetings.

The group will make recommendations for projects that could be funded by a future SPLOST. Local elected officials will have the final say on which projects will be on the SPLOST referendum. The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners first looked to put a SPLOST referendum on the May 2020 general primary ballot. Now, they are leaning toward placing it on the November 2020 presidential election ballot. A SPLOST is a 1% sales tax placed on most items sold in the county. SPLOST funds can only be spent on special projects and cannot fund local governments' day-to-day operations.

Each of the five county commissioners appointed two committee members from their district. Commission Chairman Lynn Laughter is elected county-wide. The Dalton City Council appointed three members. Each of those two bodies appointed one alternate. Each of the county's small cities — Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell — appointed one person each.

We appreciate our local elected officials for embracing the idea of an advisory committee and for taking the time to interview potential members. Commissioner Greg Jones, who represents District 4, had 21 people apply. Speaking to that many people over the course of a few weeks isn't an easy task.

Moreover, we thank everyone who applied. They showed an interest in bettering our community. That's admirable.

To the committee members, we thank you as well. We also encourage you to research SPLOSTS from other counties, and take in as much information as you can (the Georgia Public Policy Foundation on its website has an article titled "Commonsense Recommendations for SPLOST Reform in Georgia" that is a solid resource).

But if you weren't selected — or if you did not apply — keep in mind that you are still an important part of the SPLOST process. If you or your organization have SPLOST project ideas, make your voices heard. Contact our elected officials by phone, email and letters or speak to them in person. Attend commission and council meetings, and during the public comment portion of the meetings, tell them what you think.

We also encourage area residents to attend the SPLOST advisory committee meetings, and to speak up at those meetings with their ideas. We as citizens have been empowered to make our voices heard more loudly as the next SPLOST projects are proposed, discussed and vetted.

Use that power.

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