Augusta-Richmond County residents have two big decisions to make Tuesday and it's sad to report that election officials expect only about 10-to-15 percent of registered voters to participate. That's about the same paltry percentage which turned out in three previous special elections on the 1-cent special local option sales tax.
The upside to a small turnout, however, is that because so few do vote, each vote is magnified in importance. In 1990 and 1995 this resulted in a huge approval for the penny tax.
We expect and hope that will be the case again Tuesday when voters will be asked to extend the sales tax for another five years. (As we explained in this space last Sunday, the other measure on the ballot, calling for a one-and-half mill property tax hike, should be rejected. City commissioners included this to fund infrastructure and drainage projects not covered in the penny tax because they didn't have the courage to make economies elsewhere. Turning the $59 million general obligation bond down might just compel them to make those long overdue savings.)
The 1-cent sales tax, however, has served this community well for more than a decade, the results of which can be seen in nearly every section of the city in improved road, drainage, cultural or recreation facilities.
This is what's so good about the penny levy - people can actually see their revenues at work. Through last July the tax approved in 1995 (and due to expire Dec. 31 if not renewed) brought in more than $128 million.
If it's OK'd for the fourth time Tuesday, it's expected to raise another $143 million (and keep the city's sales taxes at seven cents on the dollar.)
Critically important constructs in the proposal include $20 million to get a start on designing and building a new judicial center; $20.6 million to improve and expand the fire department; $34.3 million for public buildings, including a new animal shelter and library upgrades; $59.4 million for roads, bridges, drainage and related infrastructure projects; and $15.3 million for cultural, recreational and historical projects.
Foes of the penny tax charge proponents with strong-arm tactics when they say if the sales tax goes down, property taxes will go up. But that's not strong-arming; it's telling the truth.
Projects in which multi-millions have already been invested would have to be abandoned if the 1 percent tax fails. That just can't be allowed to happen, which is why approval of the tax Tuesday is crucial not only to the future of our community, but to it's very stability.
It would be the height of irresponsibility to turn the tax down.