By Ed Brock
The jackhammers will be revving up, the orange cones will soon spring up and the cement mixers will be whirling now that Clayton County voters have approved a penny sales tax hike that will fund a variety of road, sidewalk and other projects. The measure will raise $240 million.
Only one year after a similar proposed special purpose local option sales tax failed at the polls, the new SPLOST passed easily Tuesday night 6,719 to 4,427 with all 51 precincts reporting.
As results starting to roll in, the measure took a lead and continued to widen it as more precincts were counted.
Overall the turnout was low, but officials predicted it would be.
Only about Slightly more than 10 percent of the 112,402 registered voters turned out n 11,268 voters.
The SPLOST will add a penny on the dollar sales tax for five year or until the target amount is reached. This will mean that the sales tax in the county will go to seven cents on a dollar, but would go back down to 6 percent at the end of next year when a current SPLOST for the Clayton County School Board finishes. Another vote is expected to put on a new school district penny for other projects and if it passes the sales tax would remain at 7 cents.
The just-approved money will go for a long list of road repairs and the construction of six recreation centers and a senior center.
It should take effect in January, Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said, and construction on the new projects should begin soon afterward on a schedule based on the collection of the tax.
"We've got several projects already designed and ready to go so it's just a matter of funding," Bray said.
Bray called the tax a positive step forward for the county.
While Bray and several other elected officials and citizens gathered at the VIP center at The Beach near Jonesboro to await the election results, members of Libertarian Party of Clayton County were doing the same at Rocky's Pizza on Tara Boulevard.
The Libertarians had rallied against the new tax citing the current poor economy.
"We were outspent 20 or 25 to one. We did the best we could with the resources we had," Libertarian Party Chairman Philip Bradley said. "I'm really sorry the county commission had to bribe the voters and that the voters went along with it."
Throughout their campaign against the SPLOST Bradley and other members of the party accused the Recreation and Roads 2003 Committee that promotes the tax, and the county of unethical actions in promoting the new tax. The accusations ranged from using teachers to distribute pro-SPLOST literature to putting signs promoting the tax in public right-of-ways in areas where money from the tax would be used for sidewalks, paving and other projects.
Supporters denied the Libertarians' accusations.
After last year's defeat, this year's referendum added a new senior citizens center for Jonesboro and six recreational facilities located across the county to be more attractive to the voters.
The plan calls for $250,000 of the $4 million senior center to be raised the first year and the rest the second year.
This year, signs were erected at various locations across the county stating what road or other improvements would be done if the additional penny was approved.
Because the Clayton County School system will be seeking a new special option sales tax next year, if the county one didn't pass this year it might have been several years before it would be brought back for consideration. State law allows a vote one year after the last one.
Supporters of the additional penny hinted that with roads in need of repair, residents might have been facing a property tax hike next year if the referendum didn't pass.
Another selling point pushed by supporters of the sale tax hike was that a portion of the money, possibly as much as 35 to 40 percent, would be paid for by out-of-county residents making purchases in the county.