Taxes are not something people like to discuss but one thing the majority of voters in Butts County have always supported at the polls are taxes which reduce the burdens of property tax payers with sales taxes. That funding mechanism is in danger of being gutted by the proposed HB 170 that was introduced last week in Atlanta and it’s important that Butts County citizens understand now how this could affect them.
We pay 7% sales tax in Butts County or $0.07 on every dollar spent here. So does everyone else who purchases something in Butts County, including fuel products. Three of those pennies are used to directly reduce dependence on property taxes by funding a range of local products through the sales tax. These are known as LOST, SPLOST and ESPLOST.
In Butts County, 53% of all sales tax generated here comes from the sale of motor vehicle fuels. No other county in Georgia gets over 50% of their sales tax revenues from fuel sales…no one else is even close. This means that the financial impact of HB170, which would remove sales taxes on motor fuels, could remove 53% of the dollars we receive each year from LOST, SPLOST and ESPLOST. SPLOST has been used to build our entire county water system, fire stations, soccer fields, library expansions and to renovate a number of county buildings. It has paid for patrol cars, ambulances, fire engines, road maintenance equipment and the paving of dozens of roads over the past 20 years. ESPLOST has built new elementary schools, middle schools and expansions of the high school and will soon pay for a new gymnasium on the campus of Jackson High. Without these voter-approved sales taxes, none of this would have been possible.
LOST, or the 5th penny, goes directly to the county and three cities to help offset the day-to-day costs of local government and in Butts County, it takes the place of nearly 4 mils of tax. In the cities, it helps to prevent having to impose city property taxes as well.
If HB 170 is passed with the removal of fuel sales from the three local option sales tax categories, it could cost the county $1.3 million dollars per year in LOST. It could cost Jackson $530k a year, Flovilla $111k a year and Jenkinsburg $91k per year from their budgets. Costs like these cannot be absorbed by trimming budgets…costs like these can only be absorbed by cutting jobs and eliminating services.
If HB 170 is passed, SPLOST dollars, which fund new projects, would be reduced by an additional $2 million dollars per year. The ability to replace ambulances, fire engines and patrol cars would be cut in half. The ability to replace road equipment and to pave roads would be cut in half. The ability to improve our parks, libraries and fund a variety of other projects would be cut in half, in the county, cities and at the water authority.
If HB 170 is passed, ESPLOST dollars, which fund a range of enhancements to our school system would be reduced by $1.9 million dollars per year. Before ESPLOST, if a new school had to be built, it had to be paid for by bonds which in turn were paid for with property tax dollars. ESPLOST removed that burden from property tax payers and today, probably 80% of those improvements have been made by people stopping in Butts County to fill up with fuel. Our county must have good schools to succeed and good schools must have stable and secure funding sources to make up for the gaps in what the state gives them.
HB 170 was designed to fund transportation needs throughout the state and there are some good provisions in the bill but at the point where the bill takes from the local governments to fund state initiatives for transportation, the bill no longer has the best interests of Georgians at heart. Counties own and maintain 70% of all the roads in Georgia and when you add the cities in, that number climbs into the 80% range. Its local tax dollars that maintain most of those county and cities roads.
None of our local State Representatives introduced this bill. This bill was introduced by House Leadership and they are the ones who need to hear your voices. While they say that this change imposes no new taxes on Georgians, keep in mind that it imposes no new State Taxes. What they aren’t telling you is where the funding will truly come from. You can’t create nothing out of nothing…at least human beings can’t. The money will have to come from somewhere and it is here in Butts County where the greatest percentage will come from. Butts County is Ground Zero for this debate.
Contact Georgia House leadership and let them know that you don’t support taking local dollars that local governments depend on to support state initiatives. Let them know what additional millage rates or locally imposed excise taxes in Butts County could do to harm our future. Be sure to read Buddy Costley’s editorial on the impact to the local school system and let them know how this could affect your children.
Let them know that monies raised here should stay here. As Mayor Pippin stated at the meeting held last night by all of the local governments, authorities and school board, those truck stops and the funds they generate “are our local industry”.
We have good local House Representatives but in order to truly represent you, they need to hear from their constituents about their concerns. This allows them to tell House Leadership how their constituents truly feel about it.
Our counties and cities should not have to pay the price for the state to fix the transportation problems in Georgia. They need to work with the local governments to find balanced solutions to real problems. We are willing to roll up our sleeves and work with them if they will let us.
Please share this with others. Even if you don’t agree with this, it is too important of an issue to not be heard by the people it will affect. Reach out to the House Leaders and to our two House Representatives before this bill becomes a law.
J. Michael Brewer, County Administrator
Gov. Nathan Deal – 404-656-1776
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle – 404-656-5030
Speaker David Ralston – 404-656-5020
Rep. Andy Welch – 404-656-0213
Rep. Susan Holmes – 404-656-0178