At a recent Tifton City Council meeting, discussions mainly revolved around the upcoming renewal of the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). Key points from the meeting include:
- City Manager Emily Beeman reported that the city was expecting to receive $600,000 more in revenue from the upcoming SPLOST compared to the previous one.
- Beeman mentioned that the county had plans for a courthouse expansion, estimated at over $30 million, but it was not classified as a “Level 1 project,” which would have made it a top priority for SPLOST distribution. Beeman applauded this as a sign of improved teamwork between the city and the county.
- Vice Mayor Jack Folk expressed satisfaction with the additional funds but maintained his belief that the city was not getting its fair share of revenue. He questioned why a significant portion of revenue generated within the city seemed to be allocated elsewhere.
- Under the proposed SPLOST renewal on the November ballot, the City of Tifton was slated to receive 27.86% of the funds, with the county receiving 57.86%, and the remainder going to the cities of Omega and Ty Ty and various authorities. The county expected a total of $70 million to be generated during the six-year SPLOST period.
- City Manager Beeman and County Administrator Jim Carter planned to conduct informational sessions to explain SPLOST to voters, anticipating that it would be a prominent topic leading up to the election.
- During the meeting, a Tifton resident, Julie Lester, expressed disappointment and feeling betrayed by Mayor Julie B. Smith’s previous comments regarding Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) negotiations. Lester criticized the mayor’s statements, suggesting that conceding to demands due to frustration was not good leadership.
- Mayor Smith clarified that her comments had been taken out of context and explained that she had emphasized the importance of ending public disputes with the county, as they were negatively affecting future business development. She emphasized that the decision to end the conflict was made collectively by the council and that they were committed to working together in a more cooperative manner moving forward.
The meeting highlighted ongoing concerns about the distribution of tax revenue between the city and county and efforts to improve cooperation and communication between the two entities, particularly regarding SPLOST and LOST negotiations.
Mayor Julie Smith Speaks before the Senate Study Committee
The following is a summary of Mayor Smith’s testimony before the Senate Study Committee (the video segment of her testimony is above; the full SSC video is here):
Mayor Julie Smith spoke about her experiences dealing with contentious negotiations between her city, Tifton, and Tift County. She mentioned that these negotiations were related to local option sales tax (LOST) distribution. Here are the key points from her speech:
- Mayor Julie Smith expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to speak and began with some personal remarks, including humor about familial connections.
- She introduced herself as the Mayor of Tifton and the former president of the Georgia Municipal Association.
- Mayor Smith emphasized the trauma and difficulty of dealing with contentious negotiations, which are expected at the federal level but are harder to accept at the local level.
- She highlighted the negative impact of such disputes on citizens and how it makes it challenging for local leaders to act in the best interests of their communities.
- Mayor Smith discussed the importance of fair negotiations, indicating that they could lead to substantial savings for the city.
- She mentioned the use of mediation and how it was not entirely successful in resolving the dispute, with the threat of imposing a host tax looming.
- The Mayor noted the negative effects on economic and industrial development due to these disputes, citing an example of losing a potential industry.
- She mentioned that the contentious negotiations become a media spectacle, exhausting citizens and shared constituents.
- Mayor Smith explained the significance of LOST revenue for her city’s budget, making up a substantial portion of it.
- She expressed the need to fix the LOST distribution process to avoid future contentious negotiations.
- Mayor Smith was open to exploring alternative options like a municipal option sales tax if it could help resolve the issues but emphasized the need for criteria that are fair and transparent.
- She discussed the importance of transparency and sharing data with the public during negotiations, expressing a desire for criteria that are less vague.
- The Mayor mentioned the challenges in renewing relationships with the county but emphasized the commitment to do so for the community’s well-being.
Overall, Mayor Julie Smith’s speech highlighted the challenges and complexities involved in negotiating LOST distribution between local governments, stressing the need for fair, transparent, and less contentious processes.
- Tifton mayor asks state senators to fix sales tax system | News | tiftongazette.com
- State senators asked to fix contentious talks over local sales tax money | (capitol-beat.org)
- State senators asked to fix contentious talks over local sales tax money | Georgia Public Broadcasting (gpb.org)
- Lawmakers asked to referee fights between cities and counties over local sales tax revenues – State Affairs
- SPLOST Would Generate More for City (constantcontact.com)
In the Know
Types of SPLOST
- One SPLOST (1%) may be used to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes (sometimes called a HOST, or homestead-option sales tax).
- A SPLOST is not required to exempt groceries (and almost none do), but still cannot be applied to prescriptions.
- Cities are normally not allowed to levy sales taxes, they instead share proportionately with their county, according to how much was collected within respective city limits and unincorporated areas. Cities can have a separate tax if the county does not participate. Early on, in the 1970s, Dalton had its own tax. The county (Whitfield) sued and won the right to take over the tax.
- Since 2004, Atlanta charges a city sales tax of 1% to separate and repair its old sewers and storm drains. This does not count against the 3% cap on SPLOST/LOST/HOST taxes, and was sometimes called a MOST (municipal-option sales tax).
- Like the sewer tax, the MARTA sales tax is separate and not considered a SPLOST.
- The state has been divided into twelve regions, which each voted on a TSPLOST for transportation needs in July 2012. This also does not count against the 3% cap on SPLOST/LOST/HOST taxes.