By Justin Reedy
When Carla Dennis moved to Riverdale from DeKalb County recently, she was struck by how bad Clayton County's roads were compared to its neighboring county.
The roads here are in poor enough condition that Dennis would support a tax increase to fund road improvements in Clayton County.
"I think we need (a road tax)," Dennis said. "I'd support (the tax increase) if it was going to be used for that."
Clayton County officials hope that most county residents are of the same mind. They've asked voters for a 1 percent sales tax increase, known as a special purpose local option sales tax or SPLOST, that would fund road projects and the construction and upgrading of parks and recreation facilities. The tax would be in effect for five years or until it raised $240 million.
Jonesboro resident Doris Walker likes the idea of a sales tax increase because it affects anyone who shops in Clayton County equally, whether they live here or somewhere else, or whether they own property or not.
"I think if we don't do that, we'll definitely be in trouble," said Walker, a retired teacher. "I think this is one fair way to pay for what we're trying to do here."
"I don't think most people understand SPLOST," added Henry County resident Sandy Ellis, who works in Clayton County. "It taxes more people that live somewhere else."
The proposed tax increase has run into some opposition, including an organized campaign from the Libertarian Party of Clayton County.
"In this economy, local governments should be cutting costs and taxes, not introducing new taxes," said party Chairman Philip Bradley. "Especially not when the proposed tax increase represents a quarter-billion dollars in new government spending and special projects."
County officials argue that there are needs in the county for recreation facilities and road and infrastructure improvements, and that the SPLOST is a way to provide for those needs without raising property taxes.
"We're giving Clayton County citizens a right to choose," said Wade Starr, administrative assistant to county Commission Chairman Crandle Bray. "In some counties they don't give that choice, they just raise property taxes."
The tax increase would fund the repaving of more than 1,700 of Clayton County's some 3,200 streets and roads, as well as the replacement of three bridges, upgrades to 31 railroad crossings, improvements to 21 major intersections and the paving of 10 dirt roads left in the county. In addition, millions would be spent on building sidewalks around area schools, building pedestrian bridges at two schools on major highways, installing flashing school signs and improving traffic flow at schools.
Lou Hisel, a Clayton County resident who has chaired the SPLOST campaign committee, thinks the tax increase will appeal to young residents. Clayton County's population has the lowest average age of any county in metro Atlanta, Hisel said, and this proposal attends to that through school safety improvements and recreation projects.
"One of the things that impressed was that this addresses the safety issues important to our younger generation," Hisel said.