Recently I had the opportunity to attend a presentation on the special-purpose local-option sales taxes by the mayors of LaGrange and West Point. In addition, Troup’s assistant county manager and schools superintendent were there to give a breakdown of the way the SPLOST funds were to be spent. I understand that more than 20 of these forums have been given across the county in an open and transparent fashion for all of the county to attend and learn about the referendum.
I also have born witness to the debate across the county that has ensued about the referendum. I have remained largely silent in public, but so many misconceptions and misleading statements have been made that I can do so no longer.
Recently, I was able to read an open letter to the county from my esteemed and respected friend Mr. Bill Gilmore, chairman of the Troup County Republican Party. While his heart may have been in the right place, the facts are not.
First and foremost, on the charge that the SPLOST referendum is asking residents of Troup County to approve a new 2 percent sales tax, this statement is simply false. The referendum is a continuation of the same level of sales tax which the county currently has. If SPLOST passes, residents of Troup County will not pay more in sales tax.
Secondly, Chairman Gilmore states that the leaders of the county have “conscientiously worded the new SPLOST ballot referendum so that you, the voter, will not know specifically how they plan to spend your money.” The SPLOST referendum wording is specified by state law. Local officials have no control over ways to word the ballot in regard to SPLOST. Every community which has a SPLOST vote has the referendums worded the same way.
I have never been a person to buy into grand conspiracy theories, so I do not believe it when people say that somehow the intent of the local SPLOST is being hidden behind mirrors and confusion.
I know LaGrange Mayor Jeff Lukken and the rest of the leaders who have given much of their time to these open forums. I have known many of the leaders of our county since I was a boy. I went to high school with their children, attended classes taught by their wives and served in the community with them together. I assure you that we have good leaders in place. SPLOST is not about political gain, but about allowing our community to invest in itself without having to look at other revenue options and, more importantly, about improving the quality of life in our community so we do not fall behind in our area in the avenues of development.
The examples given are that the library expansion in Hogansville, the West Point recreational improvements and the community service improvements about repairing dilapidated sidewalks or housing serve no purpose in our community.
I respectfully have to differ. Recreational tournaments such as softball have been huge boons to our economy, adding almost $10 million to our economy. Tod Tentler has done a magnificent job bringing new tournaments here. The participants in them shop in our stores, sleep in our hotel rooms and dine in our restaurants, which in turn helps pay our SPLOST.
It is also wise to keep up our neighborhoods and ensure they do not fall into disrepair, which would lower existing home prices, deter growth and stifle development, which are things we simply cannot afford in this down economy.
I share Chairman Gilmore’s assessment that there are those in our community who are less fortunate. As a student and service-sector employee, I am keenly aware of the difficulties it takes to keep a household together. I am the youngest of six children, and I witnessed my mother balancing the bills deftly at an early age.
In response to those in or community who are in need of assistance, I and the Democratic Party of Troup County stand ready to work together with the Troup County Republicans to coordinate food drives, Toys to Tots drives, clothing drives and anything else we can do together to improve the station of life in our community for the less fortunate. Instead of lamenting the plight of our neighbors, we should offer them our assistance and our ears. When it comes to bringing people up and helping others, it is not a political issue, but instead it is a moral and social issue on which I am sure we can find common ground.
SPLOST is about the future of our county. It is about continuing to invest in ourselves, our quality of life and that of the next generation. We should seek to learn all the facts and not allow our judgment to be clouded by misinformation. I encourage all voters to votes “yes, yes” on the referendum. Let’s continue to make LaGrange a “smart move.”
Chairman, Troup County Democratic Party