Earlier this year, we urged voters to pass a new Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) to provide money to improve conditions for our children and their teachers, and voters did so overwhelmingly on March 1.
Now, as Douglas County voters cast their ballots for the Nov. 8 general election, they are being asked to pass a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
And again, just as we did ahead of the ESPLOST vote, this newspaper's editorial board urges voters to approve the SPLOST vote when they go to the polls.
While the ESPLOST funds go the education system, the new SPLOST the county is asking voters to approve will provide much-needed upgrades for public safety, transportation and parks.
As we argued with the ESPLOST, a sales tax like the SPLOST, which adds 1 cent in tax for every dollar on items purchased in the county, passes the cost of projects on to people who live outside the county rather than putting it all on the backs of property owners.
If it passes, 51 percent of the SPLOST would go to transportation, 32 percent would go to public safety and 17 percent would go to parks and recreation. Between $130-$160 million is expected to be raised over the six years of the SPLOST, according to County Administrator Mark Teal. Teal said the county would get between $96-$115 million of that and the cities of Douglasville, Villa Rica and Austell would get a share based on population.
One of the big ticket items is a digital radio system for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, which Sheriff Phil Miller estimates will cost $12-$15 million.
Miller said the sheriff's office has been asking for the radio system since 1992 and that virtually every other agency around the DCSO, including law enforcement agencies in Carroll, Cobb and Fulton counties and even the Douglasville Police Department, Villa Rica Police Department and Douglas County Fire Department, have the 800 megahertz digital system.
Miller said with the current analog system the DCSO uses, there are dead spots where his deputies can't communicate. He points out that if the city police department has a call for a crime like an armed robbery, his deputies won't know the crime has occurred "unless 911 repeats it to us on our frequency." And he said currently, if one of his deputies gets on the radio "and screams for help" they could be blocked out by other traffic on the radio.
All of those problems would be resolved with the new radio system that would be purchased if the SPLOST passes, along with the ability for the DCSO to communicate with other agencies without having to go through 911 as a mediator.
"It just might save an officer's life at some point in time," Miller said.
The Douglas County Fire Department has a well documented need for fire trucks that run $550,000 each, aerial trucks that cost $1 million each and ambulances that run $200,000 each to replace aging vehicles.
Those are among the other public safety items included in the proposed SPLOST that we believe make a "yes" vote on the SPLOST referendum a no-brainer.
As the county has grown, our roads have taken a beating and the SPLOST addresses that with the bulk of the money raised by the 1 percent sales tax going to transportation. An estimated $18 million would be used on resurfacing and $15 million would go toward major intersections that need work including traffic hot spots like Highway 5 at Douglas Boulevard.
And, just as the county needs law enforcement and fire/EMS staff that are well equipped to handle emergencies, we also feel strongly about having a good parks and recreation system.
Teal estimates at least $17 million would go to parks, with renovations to county parks at Winston, Bill Arp, Fairplay, Post Road and Deer Lick, a multi-purpose recreation center/senior center/gym, a Dog River Nature Center and others items which we believe will make Douglas County a desirable place to live for years to come.
As we made clear earlier this year, this newspaper's editorial board believes in fiscal responsibility, and we haven't shied away from calling out local governments when they've made decisions that we believe adversely affect taxpayers' wallets.
But we feel strongly that this SPLOST will fund needed and worthwhile projects.
Sheriff Miller, a staunch conservative, said it best: "I think that the SPLOST is the most fair tax that we have. The people that spend money actually pay for it. I think the numbers are about 45 percent of the SPLOST money comes from outside the county. It's the cheapest and quickest way to pay for something like that and I know there's a lot of fire department and public safety things in the SPLOST this time. … Again, that's a lot of bang for the buck -- 45 percent of it's being paid for by people that live outside this county and only people in the county who spend money are paying those taxes. I don't know how much fairer it could get. The people of Douglas County at some point in time are going to have to spend money for this radio system, they're going to have spend money on fire trucks and other equipment that public safety needs in order for us to be able to give the kind of service to this community that they expect. And why not let somebody else help pay for it?"