Tax exemption bill passes

By Justin Boron

Clayton County will have to work its way around a dramatic reduction in revenue caused by a bill headed to the governor that will limit the amount of sales tax the county government can collect.

County officials say the fallout from the bill will result in an increase in taxes and hamper the viability of several projects in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program, which is heavily weighted on fuel sales tax collections.

As House Bill 341 moved onto the Senate floor Thursday, Clayton County lawmakers scrambled to amend it and salvage some financial wiggle room for a county government headed into budget meetings next week.

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, said she spoke out against the bill on the floor but could not get any more changes made to it.

"Clayton County should not be the one to bail out Delta," she said.

Despite persistent resistance from the county's mostly Democratic legislators, passage of the Republican-sponsored bill was a foregone conclusion, said Sen. Terrell Starr, D-Jonesboro, who has been slowly recovering from surgery and unable to fully participate in the Legislature.

"It's something that couldn't be stopped," he said.

The legislation also has propelled to the spotlight alleged inequities between transportation projects and recreation projects in the county's SPLOST program.

After the tax exemption bill was introduced, County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said some of the six recreation centers promised in the SPLOST program may have to be left out.

He has since assured citizens he would do everything possible to realize the centers.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph says the county should set aside the $40 million for the recreation centers in bonds as a good faith gesture to the citizens.

Bell said he opposes the idea.