By Ed Brock
Lou Hisel didn't have much of a crowd to explain a proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to Thursday night, but the debate was still pretty sharp.
If approved in a Sept. 16 election, the SPLOST would add an extra penny of sales tax to raise $240 million for road improvements, a new senior center and six new recreation centers for the county.
About half of the seven people who showed up for the final public hearing on the proposed SPLOST at Morrow City Hall belonged to the Libertarian Party that opposes the tax. Hisel is chairman of the Recreation and Roads 2003 Committee that promotes the tax.
"This is the wrong time to be raising taxes in this economy," Libertarian Philip Bradley said. "Now's the time for belt tightening, now's the time for fiscal responsibility."
But Hisel told audience members that when they go to the polls to vote for or against the SPLOST they should ask three questions.
Will the SPLOST be used for legitimate government functions? Are the projects really needed? Is a SPLOST the best way to pay for it?
Hisel said he hopes the people will answer yes to all of those questions, just as he has.
The recreation centers and senior center would receive $40 million from the SPLOST and the recreation centers especially would help the county by reducing crime. Hisel pointed to money the county raised through a previous SPLOST to build the new Harold R. Banke Justice Center and additional money being spent on the ongoing construction of a new police headquarters.
"That's $122 million we've spent in the past six years to deal with those people who are not good to our law," Hisel said. "Many of them are young people.
"And if you've driven around the county much you've seen the need for road improvement," Hisel said.
But on the topic of roadwork Libertarian Randy Daugherty asked if the county was deliberately allowing the roads to deteriorate to encourage a positive vote on the SPLOST.
"It appears that they've done that," Daugherty said. "It doesn't take much to fix a pothole and they're ignoring the potholes."
Hisel said that isn't the case, and pointed out that the roads are simply older now, with more people using them. He also said he especially likes the proposed addition of six new roads that would be paid for by the SPLOST, roads that are not intended only to compensate for new growth.
"These improvements are for people like you and me who live here now," Hisel said.
Hisel said the third question was the easiest to answer. The SPLOST can only be used for the items outlined on the ballot and has a five-year time limit.
"It'll stop at $240 million or five years, whichever comes first," Hisel said.
The only other options would be to raise the county's property tax millage rate, an extremely unpopular idea, or do nothing at all and put the county further behind on the needed improvements, Hisel said.
Daugherty offered another alternative.
"Why don't you reduce government spending in some way?" Daugherty asked.
"I guarantee you all of those county commissioners would open the door to you if you could tell them how," Hisel said in response. "I've been through that budget and I don't see how else to cut it."
Barry Wearne, also a Libertarian, suggested the county sell The Beach, the water park and beach volleyball stadium that was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The facility is now losing $180,000 a year.
"That's $180,000 you can spend on road improvements," Wearne said.
Selling The Beach would not solve the county's problems, Hisel said.
"I just think the need is there, the justification is there, to do it this year," Hisel said.