Augusta voters swept the city’s seventh sales tax to victory Tuesday with nearly 62 percent of the vote.
The number of yes votes was 9,590, or 61.5 percent, while those opposing the measure cast 6,002, or 38.5 percent.
Turnout was higher than expected, at 17.7 percent for the single-issue election, and Augusta Commission members expressed relief at voter approval for the special purpose local option sales tax, which was defeated last year.
“It was a lot of hard work,” said Commissioner Sean Frantom, who last week pushed for policy changes increasing transparency and accountability in sales tax spending. The commission approved the changes Tuesday.
“When we put together the package with the needs, the infrastructure, the public safety and not having any (non-government organizations) in, the people put the future of Augusta ahead of their feelings for the commission,” he said.
The $215.5 million sales tax package to be funded over the next six years includes $45.5 million for public safety equipment, vehicles and facilities; $70 million for road and drainage infrastructure; and $28 million for parks and other quality-of-life projects.
Though the tax has passed, the commission’s struggle to regain the public’s trust is not over, Frantom said.
“I’m going to follow the money and make sure of the accountability and the trust grows between the commission and the public,” he said.
A second loss at the polls would have put the city in a tough spot when SPLOST 6 expires in March, and the commission would have “to choose which projects they absolutely want to do and create a revenue stream with which to do it,” said City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson, who gave numerous presentations around the community before Tuesday’s referendum.
“We’re thankful for the win,” Commissioner Ben Hasan said. “It was a lot of hard work, but at the end of the day, the community respected the package that was put together.”
Battle lines had been drawn in social media and between two committees formed for and against the tax.
Former mayoral candidate Lori Davis, the treasurer for the anti-SPLOST group One Tax Over the Line, was pleased with the 6,002 “no” votes and called the referendum a victory for transparency.
“This has been a win-win situation for us,” Davis said. “We have basically gotten them on record saying they would be transparent with the SPLOST money, and we’ve got to figure out a way to hold them to it.”
Davis thanked Frantom for his willingness to reach out and said the rest of the commission should take note of it.
Ed Presnell, of the pro-SPLOST committee Secure Augusta’s Future, praised the package as “very well-balanced” in what it held for the city.
“I’m happy for the future of Augusta, and this continuation really makes it a possibility for dreams that we’ve had,” he said.
“It also has brought about a really loud promise of transparency and we’re looking forward to seeing that as well.”
City police and fire associations came out in support of renewing the tax last week for its funding for needed public safety equipment.
“We can’t thank the taxpayers of Augusta enough for supporting us and for that we are grateful,” said Charles Masters, the president of Augusta Professional Firefighters Association. “We look forward to the new changes on the commission as far as accountability and trust with the SPLOST.”
The package lost in 10 of the city’s 71 precincts, including three District 2 precincts and four District 6 precincts.