Judge denies request to delay May 20 special purpose local option sales tax referendum

Les Morton:



A Superior Court judge denied a request Wednesday from a Richmond County citizen seeking a court order to postpone the May 20 special purpose local option sales tax referendum.

In a Columbia County court hearing, Judge Michael Annis said Les Morton’s argument challenging special purpose local option sales tax 7 was more fit for Augusta Commission chambers than a courtroom. Morton, who did not have a lawyer, struggled to present a legal basis for his complaint that Augusta officials violated Georgia’s Open Meetings Act when approving the new special purpose local option sales tax and mismanaged the collections currently underway.

“The political side of this is heard at the commission chambers,” Annis said to Morton, adding that Augusta-Richmond County General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie used substantiated legal claims to defend the complaints.

Morton, a small businessman, filed a complaint in superior court April 10 against the commission. He also filed a complaint in federal court on April 11.

Although Annis denied the request for a temporary injunction to delay the May 20 vote, Morton can still pursue his case if he serves court papers on the defendants.

Morton said during the hearing that the new special purpose local option sales tax project list approved by the commission did not allocate projects to south Richmond County where he lives.

New subdivisions have been built in the area without infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks, street lights and bike trails, he said.

Morton, who also challenged tax funding for nonprofit organizations, asked that the new special purpose local option sales tax vote be delayed until 2015 to allow public input on the project list. Without court action, Morton said he would “suffer immediate and substantial harm” for investing taxes in city projects without benefitting from them.

MacKenzie said the city would incur significant costs associated with delaying the vote such as scheduling a special election date.

“In respect to the harm being argued (by Morton), the harm is nothing short of political argument,” MacKenzie said.

Annis said he could not rule in favor of the injunction because Morton did not show “substantial likelihood” that the case could prevail in court.

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