AUGUSTA, Ga. – Voting in their third sales tax referendum in less than a year, Richmond County voters did not disappoint: More than 71% came out in favor of special purpose, local option sales tax 8.
“It’s exciting news for Augusta to see the overwhelming majority of citizens are ready to see our community grow and move Augusta forward with the continuation of SPLOST,” said Augusta Commissioner Sean Frantom, who supported its passage.
“We’re very pleased with the outcome,” said Sue Parr, president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, which advocated for SPLOST 8.
Unlike property or income taxes, a sales tax is based on the consumption of goods, regardless of a purchaser’s address or income level. Applied at the cash register, it supports city revenues without increasing the burden on businesses, she said.
“It’s a very fair way of taxing,” Parr said. “This is our third sales tax referendum in the last year that we’ve advocated for – with the TSPLOST and the ESPLOST– so with the passage of SPLOST 8, we have a good record of advocating for a consumption tax.”
Approving SPLOST 8 will keep Augusta sales taxes at 8%, which includes Georgia’s 4% sales tax, the 1% tax for local education, the 1% LOST, which goes to city operations and the newest tax, the TSPLOST, which pays for designated transportation projects. Voters renewed the ESPLOST in November and the TSPLOST in June.
With a “yes” vote Tuesday, voters also approved a list of some $250 million in projects to be completed with the tax collections, including projects in the small Hephzibah and Blythe municipalities. The yes votes also authorized the city to issue $30 million in bonds (with $4 million in interest payments) to get started sooner on certain unspecified projects.
The yes votes mean approval of a $25 million infusion of funds toward building a new James Brown Arena and $5 million to begin plans for a water park in south Augusta. The list includes rebuilding the Richmond County Correctional Institution, upgrading city parks, resurfacing roads, improving drainage and more.
The approval reflects the opinion of less than 7% of registered Richmond County voters, a dismal rainy-day turnout even lower than the low of 10% predicted by Richmond County Board of Elections director.
“The voters in Augusta-Richmond County have voter fatigue with all the voting they’ve had to do in the last 12 months,” said former Commissioner Moses Todd, who promoted passage of the SPLOST. “The strategy was if you’re against it, stay home and if you were for it, come out and vote for it.”
SPLOST 8’s 5,938 supporters outnumbered opponents by almost 3 to 1, but a handful of small south- and far west- Augusta precincts voted against the SPLOST.
They included Precinct 115, Castle Pines Mobile Home Park and surrounding homes where only 26 people voted but only 38% supported the SPLOST. Also opposed were Precinct 708, which surrounds the Warren Road polling place, Precinct 801 in an extra-rural part of Blythe and Precinct 802 in the McBean area.
SPLOST 8 got its biggest share of votes in Precinct 405, with 365 cast at Diamond Lakes Community Center and Precinct 406, with 285 cast at Jamestown Community Center.
The SPLOST’s passage is certain with only 12 provisional ballots not yet counted, Richmond County Elections Director Lynn Bailey said. Not all precinct results posted last night due to a glitch that did not report totals where one form of voting, such as by mail, wasn’t used by voters in that precinct, she said.
The extra-low turnout likely saved Richmond County on the cost of the single-issue election. Projected at around $155,000, costs may be down to $130,000 due to the fewer staff needed, she said.
With no other elections planned this year until November, voters “get a break,” but will need one ahead of 2022, a big election year with contests for governor, mayor, the U.S. Senate seat held by Raphael Warnock and numerous others, Bailey said. The contests are expected to be held under new district lines based on the 2020 Census, and under new voting rules headed for approval in the General Assembly, she said.
“Our primary goal is to make sure we are ready for 2022, with reapportionment on the horizon,” Bailey said.