SPLOST Referendum on November 7 Wheeler Ballot
The only item on which all Wheeler County residents will be voting in a special election on November 7, is a referendum calling for a one cent special option local sales tax (SPLOST). If approved, the measure will take effect on April 1, 2024. Residents of Glenwood will also be voting for Mayor and City Council seats in a general election on November 7.
“It’s the fairest tax we have,” Wheeler County Commission Chair Keith McNeal said of SPLOST. This tax is paid not just by residents of Wheeler County, but by anyone who spends money in the county, whether they are passing through and buying gas, shopping at a convenience store, or eating at a local restaurant.
“It takes part of the burden off of the residents,” Mc-Neal said. If the tax referendum passes, the tax will be imposed for a period of six years and raise an estimated $2,880,000 to fund capital outlay projects. Also, if the tax is approved, it will constitute approval of a general obligation debt (bond) in the amount of $1,090,000, which will be immediately available to the county and its two municipalities and repayable from the tax proceeds. “This means this amount will be available up front, and we don’t have to wait to see proceeds realized,” McNeal said.
Wheeler County, which has a total annual budget of approximately $5.1 million, will receive 60% of the amount collected through the tax. The county and the two municipalities will each contribute 2% of their tax allocation to the county’s recreation program. Countywide, the funds will be used for the acquisition of new EMS equipment; road, street, and bridge purposes; renovation and improvement of recreational facilities; acquisition of equipment for the recreation department; acquisition of equipment for fire and rescue services; acquisition of equipment for the sheriff’s department; and acquisition of sanitation equipment.
The City of Glenwood, which has an annual budget of about $535,000, will receive 20% of the taxes collected. The taxes will fund renovation, improvement, and expansion of water and sewer facilities including installation of fire hydrants; road, street, and bridge purposes; acquisition of equipment for law enforcement and fire departments; law enforcement and fire department emergency vehicles; garbage and refuse equipment and vehicles; equipment for fire protection and related fire and rescue services; and renovation and improvement of city buildings.
The Mayor pointed out, “Every county around us has this tax, and when Wheeler County residents go to these other counties, they pay a penny. Why shouldn’t we get it when they come here?”
Joiner emphasized that SPLOST is earmarked for capital outlay to fund projects that rural communities like Glenwood may not be able to afford with the tax, such as street paving, extending water and sewer services, and buying new fire department vehicles. “Sadly, a lot wouldn’t get done without it,” the Mayor said, noting that last week SPLOST funds were used at City Hall to purchase a copy machine. He pointed out, “Glenwood only generates about $40,000 in ad valorem taxes annually. That is not even enough to pay the city’s utility bills.”
Joiner emphasized, “This tax goes directly into the community. Local governments have complete control of how this money is spent.”
The City of Alamo, which has an annual budget of approximately $1.6 million, will receive 20% of the taxes collected. The taxes will go for: road, street and bridge purposes; acquisition of equipment for law enforcement and fire departments; acquisition of law enforcement vehicles; acquisition of garbage and refuse equipment and vehicles; equipment for fire protection and related fire and rescue services; and renovation and improvement of city buildings.
Alamo Mayor Pam Lee said, “I encourage residents to research SPLOST to see how it can benefit the community. I encourage residents to vote for it. Everybody reaps the benefits of this tax.” She pointed out that SPLOST has been used in the City of Alamo for a number of projects, including renovating and improving East Side Park. “That is what this tax is for, addressing needs and making improvements in the community. This tax benefits everybody.”
Both the City of Glenwood and the City of Alamo derived about $6,500 monthly — or around $78,000 annually — from the proceeds of the last SPLOST referendum passed in 2017. The funds can be used only for capital improvements, not for operations.
McNeal said the SPLOST distribution occurs every six years, putting the process for the upcoming referendum behind schedule, with a distribution, should the referendum pass, occurring in 2024 rather than in 2023. He said the last SPLOST allocated a total of $477,773.78 for 2022. The amount allocated per year varies because of fluctuations in the sales tax that is collected.
Commenting on the fact that because the SPLOST referendum is a year behind schedule costing the County and its municipalities a year’s-worth of SPLOST funding, McNeal said, “We just let it slide by.” He said the County Clerk was notified in February by the Department of Revenue, which distributes the funding, that the last cycle of SPLOST funding allocations would end in March. “We just did not have time to schedule a referendum until November,” McNeal said.
Early voting in Wheeler County will continue at the Registrar’s Office at 16 West Forest Avenue, Suite 101 B (multi-purpose center) in Alamo from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily until November 3. Absentee ballots may be submitted until 7 p.m. November 7. On November 7, polling locations include: Glenwood Civic Center on 5th Avenue, and the Multi-Purpose Center in Alamo. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.