Sunday November 29th, 2015 7:25AM

Habersham leaders react to failure of SPLOST extension

By Rob Moore Reporter
CLARKESVILLE - What proponents said would have been a major shot in the arm for economic development and job creation in Habersham County failed at the hand of voters Tuesday.

An extension of the county's current 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax was defeated by about a 9-percent margin.

Less than 15 percent of the county's 18,649 registered voters (2,796) cast ballots in the referendum.

"It's not what we were hoping for, but it's not necessarily unexpected," Commission Chairman Chad Henderson said of the defeat. "There was an organized opposition to the SPLOST and it's understandable. When that kind of thing happens, you expect it to be close. I expected it to be a little closer than it was."

A major aspect of the proposed SPLOST, which would have begun when the county's current 1-cent sales tax expires early next year, was projects for economic development and job creation, including work to make the county's industrial park near Baldwin more marketable.

"We've got a group of commissioners that's committed to economic development, that's committed to trying to make sure that we make sure we do the best job we can for the people of this county, and to do what we can do to create jobs," Henderson said.

Henderson said commissioners would begin talking by telephone Wednesday to determine how to move forward.

"We'll utilize all the resources we have at our disposal," Henderson said. "We'll be discussing how to market the fact that we will be a 6-percent county. We'll do the best job that we can do with what we've got, as we always do. And we'll try our dead-level best to do what the county has asked us to do."

Commissioner Andrea Harper agreed the commission will work through the referendum's defeat.

"We're going to have to regroup and come together and figure out how we're going to pay for the things that SPLOST would have paid for," Harper said. "We can do it. It is a challenge, but that's what we're elected to do and we'll come together and we'll figure it out."

Harper said she's not sure what commissioners will look at funding first, but expected it to be roads and bridges.

"The only thing on SPLOST for the county commission was just roads and bridges, and then a couple of ambulances," Henderson said. "The ambulances will be a little easier to deal with probably in the long run, just because we can figure out a way to capitalize those things. Roads and bridges are going to be tough."

Henderson said the commission with sit down with the county manager and the county engineer to put a plan in place to ensure the county's roads are maintained, and to replace or repair the bridges identified by the department of transportation.

"I don't really have an answer yet exactly how to go," Henderson said. "I've already looked at some preliminary numbers in anticipation that this could happen. We'll survive - we don't have a choice."

Baldwin Mayor Jerry Neace, who was re-elected Tuesday night, also weighed in on the failure of SPLOST.

"SPLOST 6 was a critical referendum for the cities and the county," Neace said. "This is the first time that the cities and county really came together on a project list. It's going to hurt the cities tremendously, because some of our capital projects come from SPLOST. For the City of Baldwin, that's a lot of money and it hurt - especially when it was a big push for economic development so we could compete with Hall County, Gwinnett County and Jackson County. We needed this to get that moving forward."

Still, Neace is not dissuaded by the defeat of SPLOST.

"The county and the cities will get together and figure this out and move forward and make a better Habersham tomorrow," Neace said.
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