Originally created 03/18/03

Local sales taxes up for votes in 15 counties

DANIELSVILLE, Ga. -- Georgia voters in 15 counties will decide Tuesday whether they want to pay a 1 percent sales tax to build classrooms, roads and drainage systems.

These 1 percent local taxes, which can raise millions, usually are for short-term community improvements, and they typically expire after five years.

In Madison County, the $19 million that would be raised over the next five years would rid schools of trailers and replace them with real classrooms. About half the money would go toward road construction.

"If the county doesn't get the sales tax, it just means we don't get any paving. That's not good, but you can live with it," said Marvin White, president of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce. "But you can't stop classroom overcrowding. You can't stop the people from moving here, so you'd better prepare for them."

But voters in some communities are opposed to additional government spending, saying their elected officials can't be trusted to use taxpayer money wisely.

In Savannah, the anti-tax group Stop Taxing Our People is hoping for low voter turnout so the 1 percent sales tax will be overturned and people can keep their money.

"If the turnout is extremely low, we'd have a shot at it - even without advertising," said STOP president Chris Taylor. "Our people do pay attention to what's going on."

Savannah and Chatham County officials want the tax to raise about $250 million for new roads, drainage systems, nonprofit groups, debt relief and new county vehicles.

These small sales taxes are usually popular with voters because they raise money for needed projects without inflicting much pain on taxpayers, said Harry Hayes, an expert in local government programs at the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

They also help keep property taxes low, because otherwise government projects would have to be paid for out of bond issues and repaid with property taxes, he said.

Monroe County education officials are asking their voters to continue a 1-cent sales tax for $23 million for new classrooms, air conditioning and heating, and security measures.

"Although the economy is sluggish right now, our student population is growing," said Bill Bazemore, chairman of a committee promoting the sales tax. "It's something that we are going to have to address."

Voters also will go to the polls on sales tax proposals Tuesday in Appling, Bacon, Baldwin, Forsyth, Hancock, Heard, Pickens, Polk, Seminole, Spalding, Stephens and Ware counties.

There also will be local elections and referendums in Gordon, Grady, Jeff Davis, Lee, Liberty, Paulding, Stewart and Tift counties, and in the cities of Argyle, Barwick, Colquitt, Dawsonville, Fargo, Manchester, McDonough, Oliver, Porterdale and Woodberry.


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