F’ville Council not sure it wants new sales tax vote
The Fayetteville City Council is not jumping for joy at the prospect of a new sales tax put forward by the Fayette County Commission.
The county wants the tax referendum on this fall’s ballot to pay for stormwater construction and repair projects.
Fayetteville has agreed to have an infrastructure project list developed in case council members decide this summer to have the city participate in the proposed two-year Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) initiated by the County Commission.
During the discussion at the May 2 meeting, three council members expressed some reservation with having the city participate in the SPLOST initiative.
When it comes to the SPLOST planned for the November ballot, there is a potential problem if Fayetteville opts out. City Manager Joe Morton after the meeting said the city attorney’s view is that it does not take all the county’s municipalities agreeing to the SPLOST to place it on the ballot. And if the city does not sign up to be on the initiative and it passes, there is a risk that the city will not receive its share of the tax.
Morton during the discussion said the SPLOST could reportedly generate up to $5.4 million for Fayetteville. And if the council decides to participate, those funds could go for projects such as stormwater, water and sewer and transportation.
“What’s the difference this time and the one a few years ago? We’ve done our due diligence (in Fayetteville) for years. A SPLOST is like crack cocaine for elected officials,” Councilman Larry Dell said, his statement directed to Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown who was in the audience. Brown in an October 2009 letter to the editor in referencing then-Commissioner Lee Hearn and the 2009 SPLOST said “these SPLOST proposals are the new crack cocaine.”
“The 2009 SPLOST was very broad. Some (items) were more of a wish list than necessities,” Brown said, noting the variety of projects contained in the initiative. “(Today) the county is deficient in stormwater. Some of the faltering infrastructure should have been replaced years ago. The citizens suggested a short-term SPLOST. We only want to collect money to do what needs to be done. We’re only fixing infrastructure.”
Commissioner Walt White also weighed in on the conversation.
“But this is a tax on our (Fayetteville) citizens. We’re tied into your SPLOST. We lose out if it passes (and if the city does not participate). We’re in hard times and we don’t need a tax increase. I don’t want to tax our citizens. It’s not right,” White said.
Brown responded, saying the county had been neglectful in the past and the county today takes full responsibility for not having done the stormwater infrastructure work before now.
“We’ve taken care of business and I don’t like doing this to our citizens,” White responded.
Dell in further comments said he would not be opposed to city staff developing a list of possible SPLOST projects.
Councilman Ed Johnson essentially agreed, saying he would first like to see a list of the city’s needs.
“It seems like we’ve been sucked into this. The city has done its due diligence. It seems like we’re asking the citizens to take on another tax,” Johnson said.
Brown offered a response that he reiterated several times before the discussion ended. Emphasizing that he was speaking only for himself, Brown said, “I personally believe that if there is no full support (from all the cities) across the board we won’t do (the SPLOST).”
The official call for participation in the SPLOST will not come until June, Morton said, adding that such a time frame would give city staff sufficient opportunity to develop a list of possible projects for the council to consider.
Both Johnson and Councilman Mickey Edwards said they would like to have a project list developed.
Mayor Greg Clifton in his comments said that, in general terms, he would approve of SPLOST passage because it would be partially funded by out-of-county people.
“And it allows the voters to decide, so we’re not actually imposing (a tax) on citizens. It gives the citizens the ability to tax themselves,” he said.
Clifton also agreed that a project list should be developed.
After the unanimous vote to proceed with the list, Morton said city staff will present the list at a future council meeting.
Councilman Paul Oddo was not in attendance at the May 2 meeting.
His brother, Charles Oddo, is a Fayette County commissioner, all five of whom are pushing to put the SPLOST on a November ballot.