Four years after successfully leading the charge against Habersham County’s last proposed Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax, local party leaders are doing it again. Leaders of Habersham’s Democratic and Republican parties recently released a statement opposing T-SPLOST, and they’re asking voters to join them.
In a joint statement, GOP party chair David Sosby and former Democratic party chair Virginia Webb ask voters to reject “this additional layer of taxation” at the polls in November. They say raising the local option sales tax from 7 to 8% will hit hardest those who are least able to afford it – the elderly, poor, and small business owners. They also caution such a move could motivate shoppers to shop elsewhere.
A spending problem
Sosby and Webb represent the county’s bid for more taxes as little more than a money grab on the heels of a millage rate increase commissioners approved earlier this year. That one mill increase on top of higher property valuations is expected to result in an additional $3.2 million in revenue for the county.
“It seems that the County doesn’t have a revenue (tax collection) problem, they have a spending problem,” their statement reads.
The proposed T-SPLOST would add an extra penny on the dollar to every purchase made in Habersham County; no items would be exempt. The tax is projected to raise $44 million over 5 years. Proceeds would be divided among the county and its seven municipalities. The county’s portion would amount to approximately $33.4 million.
Exactly how that money would be spent is anyone’s guess.
Instead of naming specific projects to be funded by T-SPLOST, the county released a ‘bucket list‘ of general project categories. County officials say they did that to retain flexibility in case tax collections are slow or project priorities change.
Party leaders are skeptical.
“They want us to ‘Trust’ them to spend these funds on items they think are the most important in these buckets. Why is the county afraid of listing these projects?”
Pointing out that the county recently hired a grant writer, Sosby and Webb suggest the county use its new grant writer to secure funding rather than raise taxes.
The last time Habersham’s political parties united on an issue was in 2018 when they worked together to defeat the last T-SPLOST the county proposed. Webb was a part of that effort along with then-county GOP chair Carl Blackburn. They cautioned then that passing T-SPLOST could make it harder to convince voters to approve funding for a new jail.
As it turned out, voters rejected both the T-SPLOST referendum in 2018 and the Habersham County jail bond referendum in 2019.
Dusting off the same talking point this year, Webb and Sosby caution that passing T-SPLOST could “jeopardize the importance of building a new Habersham County Detention Center. This should be a priority for our county commissioners. HCDC is a project we both whole heartily support!”
While voters have been more generous lately – they approved a new SPLOST referendum in November and Education SPLOST this past May – those votes did not change the existing tax rate. T-SPLOST would.
After having their taxes already raised once this year, many voters say it’s unlikely they’ll vote for another tax increase. If more voters than not end up deciding that way, it will be fine with party leaders who call T-SPLOST simply “the wrong approach.”