TSPLOST: The Sequel

(Dade Commissioners (from left) Scottie Pittman, Ted Rumley, Robert Goff and Allan Bradford. Not pictured is Dist. 1's Mitchell Smith.)

(Editor's note: This article was originally published with an incorrect date for the TSPLOST referendum. The correct date is May 22, 2018.)

It’s back.

TSPLOST, the transportation special purpose local option sales tax that Dade voted down in November 2017, will reappear on the ballot in the primary election of May 22, 2018. The one-cent additional local sales tax poked its head back into the scene at last Thursday’s Dade County Commission with the agenda item: “TSPLOST Public Hearings—set meeting places, dates, and times.”

In fact, the commission did not set the meetings up, just agreed they were necessary. “I think the last time we had this up for a vote, we didn’t do a very good job of explaining it to folks,” said District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman.

Which brings us to the next point: Someone, apparently, hadn’t done a very good job of explaining TSPLOST to the commission last time, either. “The unfortunate part of the TSPLOST,” County Clerk Don Townsend announced to the commissioners, “is that fuel is not taxed.” Only on this go-round has it emerged that, though the proceeds of the new tax must be used exclusively on transportation-related projects such as roads, sidewalks and bridges, Georgia rules specifically forbid it to be levied on transportation-related commodities such as gas.

As such, the commissioners agreed, it would generate, if passed, considerably less revenue than originally projected. The figure bandied around in the original TSPLOST proposal was $1.8 million per year over five years, to be divided 75-25 with the city of Trenton. At the Feb. 1 meeting, no projections were made for what the newly proposed, not-on-fuel TSPLOST would net.

Georgia counties overwhelmingly voted down a regional TSPLOST in 2012, with Dade alone among its neighbors voting yes on it. Then rules were changed to allow counties to vote the additional levy on themselves individually, and this time Dade rejected it in November while neighboring Walker said yes.

But with the new tax the only county issue on the 2017 ballot, turnout was miserable and TSPLOST was voted down with 576 no-votes to 437 yes, out of close to 10,000 registered voters. Clearly the commissioners have decided it’s worth another shot.

County Executive Chairman Ted, who came down firmly in favor of TSPLOST last year, argued for it again on Thursday as a “win-win for the county.” “That way everybody in the country would be paying for our roads,” he said.

Commissioner Pittman, though, brought up the case of local merchants who sell the same merchandise as ones in Chattanooga at the same price, but can now tell customers it comes out cheaper to buy from them because of Dade’s lower sales tax.

“What would be our argument to them to justify that?” he asked.

Dade's current sales tax is 7 cents on the dollar. TSPLOST would boot it up to 8 cents. Chattanooga's is 9.25 cents.

The commissioners discussed roads that needed work but in the end deferred the subject to the aforementioned community meetings where, as Clerk Townsend put it, they could: “Ask the people what they want.”

Action-wise, Townsend said the county was ahead of the game, having already met with the Trenton mayor and with an intergovernmental agreement about the tax already in place from last year.

After the meeting, county boss Rumley said community meetings would be the prerogative of the individual districts. “Each commissioner decides where to have them, or if they want to have them,” he said.

Asked if Dade would learn from the example of Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield, whose constituents voted yes on TSPLOST after he took the case to them directly via Facebook live streaming, Rumley said why not? “Really, if we feel like there’s a lot of people out in Cyberland that don’t keep up with us, we can share that with them.”

The Planet will faithfully pass on to its readers the times, dates and venues set for any community meetings, physical or virtual, as soon as they are announced.

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