Earlier this week, the Jackson County Commission and Jackson County Legislative Delegation held a public forum to address the county’s current funding issues.

The commission is petitioning the delegation to impose a one-cent sales tax increase or to pass legislation that will give the commission “Home Rule”—a transfer of authority (to vote on such matters as taxation) from the state to the commission.

In an email to the Jackson County Sentinel, the delegation said, based on a 2015 vote by Jackson County voters that failed by a 60-40 percent margin, the delegation has thus far refused to implement a new sales tax.

The second option discussed at the forum and proposed by the delegation was a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), referendum made possible through a legislative act with the support of the people of the county.

According to the delegation, the SPLOST is an optional (based on a vote) 1% county sales tax used primarily to fund capital projects.

The delegation said its supports the SPLOST because it places control of the tax into the hands of the people of Jackson County.

The delegation would be responsible for introducing a bill in the upcoming legislative session, and Jackson County voters would be given the opportunity to vote on the SPLOST in the 2020 General Election.

“One factor about the SPLOST that earned our attention and support is the sunset provision, which means the tax will expire in a designated amount of time,” wrote the delegation. “The purpose of the sunset provision is to allow the residents of the county to remain in control of this tax. It provides the opportunity for the citizens to ‘eliminate’ the SPLOST by not renewing it if they do not see the benefits.”

The delegation said the SPLOST bill would generate an estimated $6.1 million in revenue per year in Jackson County over a two-year period.

“This ‘new revenue’ would provide opportunities to repair county roads as well as address infrastructure issues, in turn, could alleviate some of the stress on the county budget,” the delegation wrote.

As part of the bill, the commission, along with the county engineer, would be responsible for designating specific road projects and present these proposed projects to the people. These designations or “earmarks” would be written into the SPLOST bill so that the residents of the county would know exactly which projects are being funded within the designated time frame of the current bill.

The delegation said the SPLOST could also provide some relief to the county’s general fund short fall.

“The earmarks within the bill are not limited to infrastructure projects and/or road maintenance and repairs, but a portion could be designated for items such as The Council on Aging, senior centers, Senior RX program and Highlands Ambulance Service,” wrote the delegation.

The delegation is encouraging Jackson County residents to research the SPLOST and review the success that other states have had.

“If a new tax is the only viable option, we hope the people of Jackson County will give the SPLOST careful consideration,” wrote the delegation.

The delegation said it may or may not be a long-term solution to the funding problems in Jackson County, but it will provide the commission with temporary funding to bring the budget back into alignment while giving the people of the county a voice in how their tax dollars are spent.

“The Jackson County Legislative Delegation serves at the will of the people of this great county, and we are deeply concerned about the current financial issues facing the commission,” the delegation wrote. “We encourage the commission to explore additional ways to balance the budget and, as always, we value the feedback from the citizens of Jackson County.”

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