Voters will return to the polls on March 19 and decide whether to continue an existing 1-percent sales tax. However, early voting starts on Feb. 25 at the registrar’s office, according to Chattooga County Chief Registrar Sheena Weaver.
Voters are being asked whether they want to continue paying a 1-percent sales tax that benefits the county and local municipalities. If approved, the tax would continue for the next six years.
Typically these sales tax votes and special elections generate little interest among local voters. For example, look at the number of ballots cast during early voting during the last three special elections:
- 255 early votes were cast in the March 19, 2013, special election.
- 269 voted early in the March 17, 2015, special election.
- 184 voted early in the Nov. 3, 2015, special election.
(These numbers don’t include a handful of absentee ballots or votes on election day).
The registration deadline (which is also the last day to update name and/or address) for the Special Election is Tuesday, February 19. Advance voting continues from Feb. 25 through March 15. The registrar’s office is open 8:30-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. On election day, polling places are open 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
The vote is necessary because the current tax expires at the end of the year. If voters decline to extend it, the sales tax rate will drop to 6-percent.
The call for an election does not list specific projects. The wording is vague on how each will use the money.
The county wants to use it for “expansion, modernization, maintenance, construction and improvements” to local roads, bridges, the county’s water system and county buildings.
The municipalities also want the tax to fund their road programs and other projects. The municipalities also add they want the money to fund the “acquisition, construction and equipping of capital outlay projects for recreational, historical or cultural facilities or any combination thereof,” according to the call for election.
Trion Mayor Larry Stansell previously told The News that he had a list of projects that is “four miles long, and included street paving and striping.
The City of Summerville receives about $586,000 a year from this tax. Mayor Harry Harvey said this tax has paid for a multitude of city projects.
“If we aren’t getting the sales tax, I don’t know where we would get the money to do those projects. That is just the way it is,” Mayor Harvey said.
Commissioner Winters and the local mayors have signed an intergovernmental agreement that designates how future sales tax money would be divided.
The county would get 54.5 percent; Trion 10.5 percent; Summerville 27.5 percent; Lyerly 3.75 percent and Menlo 3.75 percent.
“We mainly use our money on matching DOT grant funds for road paving and then we do additional paving. It’s been very useful in the past,” Commissioner Winters said.
The county used the current sales tax to also pay for several other projects like a traffic light at Leroy Massey Elementary School; repair two bridges; replace the civic center roof; renovate the courthouse and replacing several aging heating and air units at various offices.
“Without the sales tax, those projects would not have happened. I think each of the mayors would give you examples of projects that would have gone uncompleted if it had not been for this tax,” Commissioner Winters said.
Summerville is currently working toward renovating its sewer system. Menlo’s big project is replacing 1951 water lines that are mainly galvanized steel pipes. Menlo also has a new city hall, the former BB&T Bank building, and needs money to renovate it. Another project is replacing a bridge on Seventh Street.
If approved, the renewed tax would start Jan. 1, 2020, according to Winters.
If the sales tax fails, the county and cities can rework their sales tax proposals and put the issue on the ballot again after a year passes.
“We can’t advocate for or against the sales tax. All we can do is just show a list of projects where the money will be spent,” Winters previously said.
Here is a breakdown of how much money the tax provided to local governments in 2018:
* County — $1,182,362.
* Summerville — $586,383.
* Trion — $223,891.
* Lyerly — $81,027.
* Menlo — $58,638.