What’s new on the plateau

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Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor

During the holidays I visited my daughter and grandchildren.  Rebecca and her husband live in a large Atlanta metropolitan county.  While there, I did my routine training run at large community park across the street from their subdivision.

The large park was very impressive. It has an artificial turf soccer/football field, multiple baseball and softball fields, skateboard parks, and outdoor basketball courts.  In addition there were at least two child play scapes and a long jogging/walking trail.  The park has a trail network that connects adjacent subdivisions.  Plans are underway to add an aquatics center.

As I was leaving the park I saw a sign stating that the park had been built with SPLOST funds.  That acronym  means, “special purpose local option sales tax.”  Later I discussed  SPLOST  with my son-in-law who grew up in Rabun County.  He said Rabun County had also built a great recreation facility with SPLOST funds.

I returned to Highlands and began researching the Georgia SPLOST, and whether North Carolina has the same option.  Georgia county voters can approve an one cent addition to local sales tax for designated special projects. The tax has a five-year sunset. This additional tax has to be earmarked for specific recreation, education and road projects.  

I read an article about North Carolina local option sales tax that has been published by the North Carolina School of Government.  While our state has a local option sales tax provision, it is much more complicated than the Georgia SPLOST provisions. There is no special projects provision in North Carolina.  The North Carolina Legislature may want to consider creating a SPLOST which would give county voters more specific input in shaping local infrastructure.

For example, Macon County is beginning to review whether to build a new, or renovate, Franklin High School. Currently, the vehicle to fund such a project would be through property taxes, which would probably have to be increased. A SPLOST might be an option to fund such a project in part, or in whole.  Road, sidewalks, and park improvements could be funded with this type of tax.

There are pros and cons to having a SPLOST.  One benefit is that the tax burden is distributed to everyone who purchases goods and services in a county, including visitors and tourists. A SPLOST would take the burden off property owners and continuing millage rate increases.

The converse argument is that a sales tax is regressive, and folks on limited incomes are impacted the most.  Also, there is the concern of a tax drain on a county imposing a SPLOST. Some believe consumers would simply take their business to adjacent counties that do not have the tax. 

SPLOST may not be a tax panacea, but I think state leaders should consider this option.

The January Highlands Town Board meeting is tonight [Thursday] at 7 p.m., at the Highlands Community Center. First on the agenda will be an update by the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation. Representatives of nonprofit organizations focused on the wellbeing of the community, may want to hear this important presentation.

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