What is a SPLOST?

LaGRANGE – As Troup County and its cities begin to discuss the renewal of the special-purpose, local-option sales tax, locals find themselves considering the purpose behind the optional sales tax that has held Troup County sales tax at seven percent for years, the projects that it has helped accomplish in the past and what its renewal may mean for the future of the county.

SPLOST has been at the center of many local projects in Troup County through the years, ranging from building roads to building parks, but the tax is limited in what local governments are allowed to use the money on. SPLOST funds can only be used for specific capital improvement projects, to pay off debt incurred on infrastructure projects, or issue a bond for a specific infrastructure project. Approved projects are restricted to major, permanent or long lived improvements such as land, buildings, other structures, roads, bridges as well as some major items like equipment and vehicles.

“We as the citizens have the right to vote ourselves an increase in sales tax – a one-cent sales tax – and to use that money for projects around our community – things that we deem are important in our own communities,” said County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews during a meeting last week. “The school system recently did one, and theirs passed, and their (Education) SPLOST, their one cent was dedicated to education. This one-cent sales tax that we are going to ask the voters (for) – we will come to the voters and ask for them to approve it.

“There will be a list of projects that have been compiled across the county. Each city will have things that they would like to do. The county has things that they would like to accomplish… so this is an opportunity spend those dollars to achieve things that you’d like to see in your community.”

The funds cannot be used for projects that are not owned by the city or county – like bridges under the Georgia Department of Transportation – or salaries. Funding for salaries for government employees like the sheriff’s office through a local option sales tax is currently being considered by Georgia legislators, but at this time, that option has not been approved. That doesn’t mean the city and county can’t help its employees in other ways though, through projects like building a new fire station for the county and improving the LaGrange Police Station, which has not been upgraded in decades.

“It takes a SPLOST to achieve a lot of those extra things that we want in a community,” said Crews. “Not necessarily things we need, but things that we want, and our role is to kind of balance what we think we need and what our citizens want.”

Many local governments favor SPLOST because it makes it possible for cities and counties to fund projects without raising property taxes, and Troup County voters have approved the tax for more than two decades now, with the tax making possible much needed local building projects like the Troup County Government Center and more recently the Hogansville Library.

“It’s not a new tax,” said Mayor Jim Thornton at the same meeting. “It is a continuation because the voters of Troup County have for four – this is SPLOST 4 that we are under now. Every six years, they have approved a SPLOST with a different list of specific items. Typically, high on that list are public safety, police, fire issues, roads, but also recreational amenities, a lot of the ball fields, natatorium, Sweetland Amphitheatre, a lot of recreational type of amenities have also been included on that list, and that current penny tax expires December of 2018.

“… And so, the vote later this year will continue that for another six years beginning in 2019, so no additional increase in your sales tax (will occur). It will still stay seven percent, just like all the counties around us.”

Even with that one percent increase, Troup County has a lower sale tax then some nearby cities like Auburn, Ala., which features a nine percent sales tax and Atlanta where sales tax is eight percent.

The vote on SPLOST 5 will be in November, and city and county officials are still in the process of considering which improvements will have the greatest impact on the community.