Tally of Delta bill at $9.2 million

By Justin Boron

Only a last ditch effort to get the governor to oppose House Bill 341 would stop the hit Clayton County expects to take in its sales tax collections over the next two years.

The legislation, which awaits Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature, limits the amount of sales tax larger airlines including Delta Air Lines would have to pay.

The bill aimed to help a financially struggling Delta with the impact of rising fuel costs, said House Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Mark Burkhalter, R-Alpharetta, who introduced the bill.

If Perdue signs the bill, the county estimates it will lose $9.2 million in Local Option Sales Tax and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money over the next two years, said Dan Martin, director of county finance.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, who opposed the bill along with the Clayton County legislative delegation, said he is crafting next year's budget to accommodate the losses.

Bell has also criticized several legislative pay raises for county court officials and asked Perdue to veto them.

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, chairwoman of the local legislative delegation, said if any veto request is made, it should be for the airline tax exemption, given its much heavier financial impact. The county anticipates the raises will cost the county an additional $102,741 each year, according to a county finance analysis.

The loss of part of Delta's sales tax also could hamper much of the extra benefit anticipated for the SPLOST program when it passed by referendum in 2003.

The economic engine of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of the factors that makes the initiative so attractive to Clayton County specifically, said Lou Hisel, who was co-director of the SPLOST committee.

Neighboring areas like Fayette and Henry counties, which do not have a major airport, have considerably smaller SPLOST programs.

Henry County has a $140 million, five-year SPLOST for roads, public buildings, and recreation. Fayette County has $116 million transportation SPLOST for five years.

Initially, Bell said the bill could force the county to abandon its plans for some of the recreation centers in the SPLOST program.

He has since said the county would provide the recreation centers but has distanced himself from the public belief that six centers were promised in the SPLOST plans.

At a recent meeting, the Board of Commissioners set aside $4.4 million for a Riverdale recreation center.

County Finance Director Dan Martin unveiled a plan that would divert money from the roads program to produce centers in Riverdale, Ellenwood, Forest Park, and Jonesboro. A swimming complex and a senior center would also be constructed, the plan says.