Low voter turnout expected at a special election today could propel a sales tax extension and a new property tax into passage.
Nearly 82,000 Augustans are registered and eligible to cast ballots between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. at today's special election.
But fewer than 9,000 people - 10 percent of registered voters - will likely turn out to check "yes" or "no" on extending the 1 cent special purpose local option sales tax and green-lighting a general obligation bond that would pay for $59 million worth of drainage-related improvements.
"Usually when you deal with tax issues, the turnout is very low," said Travis Doss, assistant director of the Richmond County Board of Elections.
The last special election for the sales tax had a 15 percent turnout. But in an election year, voters are even less likely to make it to the polls for a levy issue, he said.
"If we hit 15 percent, we'd be doing well," Mr. Doss said.
In September 1995, 13,000 ballots were cast: 81 percent were in favor of extending the tax for a third time.
The anticipated low turnout could bode well, not only for keeping the sales tax in place but also for the bond's passage.
"Statistics show when there's a lower turnout, the people who come out are the people who are for it," Mr. Doss said.
The tax generates about $30 million annually for local infrastructure improvements. Extending it a fourth time would keep Augusta's sales tax at 7 cents on the dollar.
Although the sales tax primarily funds improvements to roads, bridges and drainage facilities, line item issues are expected to draw a significant showing of supporters. Some groups expected to turn out to support the sales tax include:
Animal activists: $1 million for a new animal shelter
Public safety officers: $21 million to build five new fire stations and renovate several others
Attorneys and judges: $20 million toward a new judicial center
Book buffs: $10 million for libraries
The arts community: $100,000 for the Arts Council and $500,000 for other area theaters.
Different on this year's special election ballot will be a question that asks voters to consider a $59 million general obligation bond to pay for drainage-related projects. The proposed bond would be paid off through a property tax increase of 1.5 mills, which translates into $52.50 more in taxes on a $100,000 house with homestead exemption.
The Richmond County Republican Party has organized a movement to oppose both the sales tax and the bond issue because it says drainage projects should be addressed by the 1 cent levy and not the property tax increase that would accompany a bond issue.
"We feel that the 1 percent sales tax is the fairest tax because everyone has to pay," said David Barbee, chairman of the local Republican group. "Anyone that comes into our county pays the tax. ... The revenue comes in from Richmond County and does not come off property owners' shoulders."
The Richmond County Pride and Progress Committee, which supports the bond issue, mailed about 12,000 pro-bond fliers to people who own homes in the flood plain.
The Citizens for Progress Committee paid for a "Vote Yes" flier on the sales tax issue.
"I think it's going to be a real setback for our community if we don't get this passed," said Don Grantham, chairman of the Citizens for Progress group. "Things would come to a halt as far as various projects like streets and drains and other things needed in areas for the community."
On the Web:
Live results of the special election will be available online shortly after the polls close at 7 p.m. today. Log on to Augusta-Richmond County's Web site at: augusta.co.richmond.ga.us/
Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.
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