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McDonough reduces its polling sites to one

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Voters in McDonough are expected to have little trouble finding their precinct, in order to cast ballots in future elections.

Next year, there will only be one, and it will be the Henry County Board of Elections and Registration Office, at 345 Phillips Drive.

On Monday, the McDonough City Council adopted an ordinance that will move the city's two polling places from their present locations to the elections office site. The new location is expected to be ready for use by November 2011, said Janet Shellnutt, Henry County elections and registration director.

Shellnutt said she initially approached the city about relocating its polling places. "After managing the city elections, the biggest problem in managing [them] was the locations," Shellnutt said.

The city is divided up into four voting districts, she said. Constituents living in districts 1 and 4 vote at Henry County Middle School, at 166 Holly Smith Drive, she said. Voters in districts 2 and 3 use McDonough Fire Station No. 1, at 88 Keys Ferry St., she said.

Voters sometimes got confused and went to the wrong polling place to vote, she added.

The polling-place change must now be sent to the United States Justice Department for review.

There will be little cost to the county to move the polling places, said Shellnutt. The only cost the city will incur is the cost for postage to send out voter registration cards notifying constituents of their new polling places, she added.

"I am so pleased and delighted," said McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland, about the new voting location. "Things will be so much smoother."

The parking for the facility will be adequate, especially with extended voting dates, Copeland said. A new parking deck is being built on Lawrenceville Street to alleviate the parking crunch in the city.

"So many people now are taking the opportunity for advance voting," said the mayor. "I think it's going to work well."

McDonough City Councilman Rufus Stewart, who lives in District 1, said, "A lot of people at the last election got confused as to where to go."

The last election for McDonough was the municipal elections in November 2009.

During the same Monday session, administrative changes were made to the city's hotel-motel tax ordinance. The action was taken to ensure that the 5-percent tax levied on hotels and motels in the city is properly collected and accounted for, said McDonough City Councilman Wayne Smith. "This was essentially housekeeping," he added.

Under the newly amended ordinance, the 5-percent tax charged per room will not increase. Mayor Copeland said the tax can legally be raised as high as 8 percent, but the city chose not to attempt to raise it.

The ordinance specifies that taxes collected are due and payable to the city finance officer monthly, on, or before, the 20th day of the each month after the taxes are collected.

Lodging owners, who do not collect the hotel-motel tax as directed, or who do not pay the tax to the city, will be found guilty of a misdemeanor, according to the ordinance.

If convicted, they would pay a fine of not more than $100, or be confined for a term not to exceed three months, or a combination of both.

The city will request the help of the Georgia Municipal Association in auditing revenue collected from the tax, according to city officials.

"Last year, total hotel-motel tax revenue was just under $400,000," added Councilman Smith. "That is split between the city's general fund, and the Hospitality and Tourism Authority. We want to make sure the city is collecting the revenue we're supposed to receive."