Sunday April 14th, 2024 10:26AM

Hall County tax initiative scrapped after Buford, Rest Haven fail to sign agreement

By Christian Ashliman Anchor/Reporter

The Hall Board of Commissioners Thursday was forced to scrap a transportation special purpose local option sales tax initiative after negotiations with Buford and Rest Haven broke down.

In April, local officials began the process of detailing a potential TSPLOST initiative they hoped would be added to the ballot during this next voting cycle. Now, after receiving agreements from most of the municipalities within Hall County, the commissioners were forced to scrap this year’s initiative due to a breakdown in negotiations with the cities of Buford and Rest Haven.

The vote on the TSPLOST was previously tabled at a commission meeting on July 13 in order to give more time for negotiations to continue with the two municipalities.

“Their [Buford’s] city manager sat through all the meetings, I assume his board was in on the negotiations,” Hall County Commissioner Jeff Stowe said. “Up until a month and a half ago, we had a firm agreement that everybody was going to be voting on and Buford heard changed its mind and decided they didn't want to vote on it.”

Stowe cited a major reason Buford chose not to agree to the TSPLOST was due to property annexation issues between the city’s school board and the county.

“There was some legislation that was passed in this past year that allowed Hall County to keep the revenue from property that was annexed into the city of Buford, instead of it going to their school board,” Stowe said. “There's a couple of pieces of property that they are currently wanting to annex into Buford, that they wanted exempt from that agreement. And that's not our fight. So they've held us hostage and wanted that to be included, and it's a lot of tax revenue that would have come out of our road projects to go to their government school system.”

Specifically, Stowe noted the dual interests of Phillip Beard, who sits on both the Buford City School Board and the Buford City Board of Commissioners. Stowe believes Buford’s decision on the TSPLOST belongs solely to that municipality’s commissioners, without having the interests of Buford’s school board involved.

“We just will not put it on the ballot this year, because we would have had to put it on at 75% instead of a full penny, it would have been three-quarters of a penny [in TSPLOST taxes] and then you don't have a complete IGA [intergovernmental agreement],” Stowe said. “The state then can dictate the revenue, and Buford would have stood to gain potentially a lot more revenue that way versus what we all agreed upon.”

However, in an emailed statement issued Friday morning, the City of Buford cast the blame for the lack of cooperation with the TSPLOST on the Hall County School District.

"The blame for the stalled TSPLOST referendum rests squarely on the Hall County School District's doorstep, as it resorted to political tactics by singling out one of the two city school systems within the county," the statement reads. "The district refused to compromise by allowing Buford to annex two vacant parcels that already partially lie within the city, with Buford taking responsibility for the necessary infrastructure."

Buford City Commission Chairman and Buford City School Board Chairman Phillip Beard also provided a response via email.

“I have a duty to advocate for what I believe benefits Buford’s residents, schools, and businesses alike, rather than yielding to external pressure," Beard said. "The assertion that Buford is a bully holding Hall County hostage is a mischaracterization of the situation. Buford, like any municipality, has the right to pursue annexation and economic growth within its boundaries.  In subordinating themselves to the wishes of Hall County School District, the Hall County Commission has failed in its responsibility to represent all citizens of Hall County, including those in Buford."

Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said in a response to Buford and Beard's statement he believes the school district has no role to play in the annexation issue.

"It's fascinating that an individual would claim that a school district has anything to do with an annexation issue," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said in response to Beard's statement. "This is clearly an issue where a city municipality and a city school district are, in a very unhealthy way, entangled."

"This will provide an opportunity I think for our state legislators to go back and fix a law that says that one small municipality can hold an entire county hostage and demand a disproportionate amount of revenue to push a TSPLOST forward," Schofield said.

The TSPLOST initiative was fully geared towards transportation projects in the county, including potential improvements to Spout Springs Road and McEver Road, to name a few.

Other cities that were hoping to complete similar improvements included Clermont, Flowery Branch, Gainesville, Gillsville, Lula, Oakwood and Braselton.

All is not lost for this TSPLOST initiative, as Stowe hopes to get it approved next year. That being said, Stowe noted that it is challenging to have two SPLOST initiatives on one ballot, should 2024 have plans for an education SPLOST or other such vote.

The commission will now return to the drawing board to find “an appropriate time to bring it back,” Stowe said.

  • Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News
  • Associated Tags: Buford, hall county, taxes, Hall County Board of Commissioners, TSPLOST, Rest Haven
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