The Jackson County Legislative Delegation and the Jackson County Commission hosted a public meeting together Monday evening regarding the current state of the county. The two parties are still at odds over potential solutions to the county’s financial problems.
Approximately 100 Jackson County citizens attended the meeting at Scottsboro High School, and several of them asked questions to the commission and the legislative delegation. Jim Jordan was the first person to ask a question, and he asked the delegation and commission to address a one-cent sales tax.
Commission Chairman Tim Guffey said it would be the only growth tax the commission could receive that makes sense to fix the county’s problem. He said the county has no growth mechanism and it does not get tax dollars to keep its infrastructure going.
State Sen. Steve Livingston mentioned the fact that a one-cent sales tax was defeated in 2015 with 60% of the vote. He said the legislative delegation is not interested in levying a tax. Livingston said they are looking at other ways to generate income. He also said a one-cent sales tax would make Jackson County have a higher sales tax rate than its surrounding counties.
Representatives Tommy Hanes and Ritchie Whorton talked about adding a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) for Jackson County. A SPLOST is an optional one cent sales tax levied by any county for the purpose of funding the building of parks, schools, roads and other public facilities.
Most counties in Georgia utilize a SPLOST for projects. The delegation wants a SPLOST because the public would be able to vote on it every two or four years, and it would give the people power if the commission does not use the funds how it is supposed to.
Guffey said a SPLOST would not fix the county’s budget deficit, the shortage of Sheriff’s deputies, the shortage of employees at the Jackson County Jail and it would not allow the commission to give raises to help retain its employees. Guffey said it would not fix the long-term problem. He said if that was the only thing the delegation would do; the commission would put it together with as many projects as possible.
District 2 Commissioner Jason Venable said once several projects were completed, the SPLOST would fail, and the commission would be back in the same position it is in now. District 3 Commissioner Melinda Gilbert mentioned that most Jackson County voters live in Scottsboro, and a SPLOST most likely fail once Scottsboro citizens see things getting done.
Travis Stevens spoke about the SPLOST and asked what the delegation’s plan was to fix the problem. Stevens is a supervisor at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. He works on night shift patrol. He said they are shorthanded; they need more personnel and better equipment. He said it takes money to make those things happen.
“A SPLOST would be all well and good if we had to build an alternate road from Skyline to Estill Fork, but we don’t need that,” said Stevens. “We need general fund money, and a one cent tax is the fairest form of taxation at the local level.”
Stevens asked if a SPLOST is all the delegation had and said it does not fix anything. He asked what the plan was and told the delegation to “eliminate the excuses.” Livingston said there is no plan, and the delegation has met with the commission several times to try to come up with a plan. He said even if they came up with a plan, nothing would happen until February. Stevens responded and said the past legislative session was wasted.
Jackson County Emergency Management Agency Director Felix Jackson asked how a SPLOST would help with the general fund problems.
Jackson said he does not want to pay new taxes, but the county needs something to help it run right and sustain for the future. Hanes responded and said portions of the SPLOST would be earmarked to give relief in the general fund.
Beverly Gilmer spoke at the end of the meeting. She said that she thinks it is okay to pay to have nice things.
“We need to do what we’ve got to do to make our county work,” said Gilmer. “I want a county that works. I want us to be proud of our county.”
Questions were asked about the shape of county roads, especially the roads washed out by the flooding in February.
Venable said the county wants to fix those roads, but the commission does not have the finances to service the $6.1 million projects. Hanes said the county acknowledged it would have to borrow the money for the projects and said they needed to “get after it” because it is a public safety issue.
Guffey said he thinks Livingston would help the county if he had help from his representatives.
“These same three legislators have met with three different commission chairmen and seven different commissioners over the last five years. That makes you think about where the problem is, “said Guffey.