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County to vote on penny tax

By Justin Reedy

As Clayton County suffers from the ongoing economic recession with one of the metro areas highest unemployment rates, are local residents willing to vote for a sales tax increase they turned down a year ago?

That depends who you ask.

Riverdale resident Carla Dennis is glad to see the county proposing to use some of the sales tax revenue for more recreation facilities in the community n an area in which she says Clayton County is lacking.

"We need them," Dennis said. "There are not that many recreation facilities here in Clayton County to accommodate all of the citizens. Coming up in DeKalb County, we had a host of recreation centers, and they still do."

In addition to funding recreation center improvements, the county proposes to use the sales tax increase on a massive, $200 million road improvement program. Jonesboro resident Ida Mu?oz thinks raising the sales tax is a good way to make all of those who use the county's roads pay for their upkeep.

"I'd support it," Mu?oz said. "I think everybody who comes here to shop should have to pay taxes. They should do that instead of raising taxes just on the people who live here."

"I think we need (a road tax)," Dennis added. "I moved here from DeKalb County recently, and the roads there are better than the ones here. I'd support (the tax increase) if it was going to be used for that."

Some are opposing the measure, though, saying the county could raise funds for road improvements by other means, especially with the county still suffering from the recession. The local chapter of the Libertarian Party plans on leading the opposition to the penny tax.

"Our main point in opposing the SPLOST is that the county still owns pieces of property, like The Beach (at Clayton County International Park) or Tara Field in Henry County, that are losing money," said Hampton resident Doug Craig, a local Libertarian Party leader. "There's no reason for this. There are still hard economic times here in Clayton County."

Others are worried that county leaders could abuse the SPLOST by using it to pay for things other than road and recreation improvements. That's what officials in nearby Butts County are accused of, according to Jackson resident Allen Crenshaw, who works and shops in Clayton County.

"My biggest thing is that it be utilized for the intended purpose," Crenshaw said. "I'd support it if that were the case."

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners at its meeting tonight will vote on whether to put forth a referendum to local residents on the 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST. If the SPLOST resolution is approved by the commission, voters would decide the issue on Sept. 16.

The penny tax would be in effect for five years or until the county raises $240 million, with the proceeds going to recreation facilities and road improvements.

A similar measure n which would have raised $200 million over four years n was defeated in a countywide election last year 10,208 to 14,513.

This proposal includes about $40 million for recreation funding the previous SPLOST did not. That could draw more support for the tax increase, officials say.

"I hope we can get more folks on board with this," said Crandle Bray, chairman of the commission.

The road improvement program n which would get the lion's share of the proposed SPLOST revenue, or about $200 million n is another selling point for the county. The penny tax would repave about 60 percent of the county's roads. It would also pay for the inspection and replacement of many storm drain systems in subdivisions, building of new sidewalks and improvements to the intersections and traffic coordination systems throughout the county.

Faced with lower funding levels from the state's local assistance road program, Bray said, the county has to choose between raising property taxes or the sales tax in order to maintain local roads.

"If we're going to maintain our roads, we better (get another revenue source)," he said.