We weren't exactly shocked at the lead headline in Saturday's Daily Citizen-News: "Applications lagging for SPLOST advisory committee." But we are hopeful the current trend changes for the better.
On June 10, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners voted to form a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2020 citizens advisory committee. The group will help pick the projects to be placed on an expected SPLOST referendum during the May 2020 general primary. The committee of 16 people and two alternates will not have the power to select the projects, but will work to generate ideas, ask tough questions of our elected officials and dig deep into the details of the proposed projects.
Each of the five commissioners will appoint two people to the committee from their district (Chairman Lynn Laughter is elected county-wide). Commissioners will appoint one alternate. The Dalton City Council will appoint three members and one alternate, and the three smaller cities in the county -- Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell -- will appoint one member each.
The application deadline is Monday, July 1, at 5 p.m. You can apply for the advisory committee through the county website at www.whitfieldcountyga.com. Paper applications can be picked up at Administrative Building 1, 301 W. Crawford St.
All applicants can go online or fill out an application and county officials will forward the application to officials in the cities.
To serve, a person must be a Whitfield County resident and have voted in three of the last four elections wherever he or she is registered to vote. A person appointed by a city council must reside in that city. A person appointed by a commissioner must be a resident in that commissioner's district. Elected officials and candidates for elected office may not be on the committee.
As of Friday, 13 people had applied. That feeble number doesn't even equal the total number -- 18 -- commissioners set for the entire committee.
Why the lack of interest?
We can point to several reasons, with the chief being overall voter apathy. Historically, a very small percentage of active voters cast their ballots in Whitfield County elections (save for a presidential election or a hotly contested governor's race).
The timing isn't ideal. During the summer, we are often elsewhere physically and mentally. Many of us are taking summer vacations or shuttling children around to different camps throughout town. The short window to apply -- about three weeks -- doesn't help either
The committee application details aren't very detailed. How long will the committee be active? How often will it meet? When will it meet? Where will it meet? What do commissioners expect of committee members?
Some potential committee members may be disqualified by the voting requirement (which we strongly oppose) or may be confused as to which district they reside in.
Despite these hurdles, we believe the idea of a SPLOST citizens advisory committee is a positive step for our community.
Commissioners responded to the perceived lack of community input on the six-year, $100 million SPLOST that voters rejected in March and took a step to improve the level of communication.
We need more residents actively engaged in determining the future of our community. We encourage you to apply for the citizens advisory committee.
After all, this is your community. What do you want it to be?