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Thursday July 30th, 2015 9:08PM

Hall Co., municipalities review framework for SPLOST VII

By B.J. Williams News Director
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GAINESVILLE - If Hall County voters approve another Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), then government officials want to make sure citizens are involved in the process from start to finish.

Three public meetings have been set for June as leaders prepare for a SPLOST VII vote in the fall. Jock Connell, who is assisting local governments with coordinating the penny sales tax referendum, said at a Monday afternoon kickoff meeting that public input in advance of the vote is critical.

"The basic reason is that...they're the folks that will be voting on this," said Connell.

"We will create an environment for them to talk to us - and hopefully some type of mechanism where they can fill out some type of form to tell us what they think the priorities ought to be. We want the meetings to be framed in a way where we're getting input from them, not just where we're sitting up here doing presentations."

While specific venues have not been set, the meetings will be held June 10 at a south Hall location, June 17 at a north Hall location and June 19 at a Gainesville location.

Should SPLOST VII pass on November 4, then Connell said there's a plan in place to form a Citizen Advisory Committee, so the public will continue to have oversight of any SPLOST projects.

"The public needs to know that if they vote for this, the county's not just going to go and spend the money and they'll never hear about it again," said Connell.

"They [citizens] can sit down either once a quarter, twice a year, three times a year and find out what's the status of these projects and how are revenues coming in and what are expenses."

While there are still details to be worked out on a SPLOST VII referendum, Connell told the government leaders at the Monday meeting that this tax, if approved, would be in place for five years, or 60 months. He said early estimates from a consultant at Georgia Tech show SPLOST VII would generate at least $130 million in that time frame.

Connell did not have a list of projects to present, noting that the county and its municipalities would need to formulate detailed lists. Some municipal leaders, specifically Mayor James Nix of Clermont, told Connell they needed to know how much revenue their cities would likely see before they could develop a project list.

Connell said he thought he could get those figures to government leaders within a matter of days.

Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann asked Connell if he thought a county SPLOST might suffer the same fate as the statewide T-SPLOST of 2012. (Only three regions passed the transportation tax.) Connell said he did not have a prediction for what "trickle down" effect might linger from that vote.

County Commission Chairman Dick Mecum delivered an impassioned plea for support of another penny sales tax, saying that growth is headed full force toward Hall County and government leaders have to be focused.

"How do we plan? What is your vision?," asked Mecum. "What SPLOST is is a choice...to move forward, to bring economic development, to bring jobs, to bring a better quality of life, to broaden our tax base."

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