Peachtree City Councilmember Eric Imker would like to see Fayette County join the vast majority of Georgia counties in adopting a Special Local Option Sales Tax, and he said Thursday that doing so would allow Peachtree City to reduce its property taxes while netting more revenue.
According to data from the Georgia Department of Revenue, Fayette County is one of only eight counties out of 159 in Georgia that does not currently have a 1-cent SPLOST in place. The current sales tax rate of 6-percent in Fayette County places it among only eight counties with similarly low rates, whereas 107 counties have a 7-percent rate and 45 are at 8-percent.
Imker said he believed the city could reasonably reduce its millage rate by 1.5 mills, saving the average homeowner about $150 annually in property taxes, and still net a gain of around $3.5 million in overall revenue with the SPLOST.
Imker said the reduced millage rate would cost the city $2.6 million, while an extra 1-percent SPLOST would generate around $6 million, netting about a $3.5 million gain. He said based on some analysis the average resident would pay about $150 in extra sales tax each year due to the added cent of tax, meaning the change would be neutral for residents but positive for city revenue if Imker’s numbers are correct.
“This is not a new concept. We are one of about five counties in the state without a SPLOST,” Imker said. “We think we’re the smart ones saying we don’t need a SPLOST, actually they’re the smart ones.”
He said he’d kicked the idea around with some city staff as well as county leaders like Steve Brown and administrator Steve Rapson, but the process hadn’t gotten very far. He said he’d pitched the idea to Rapson in an e-mail and Rapson had said he would discuss the concept with the commission on Friday, when they had their annual retreat.
Imker granted that recent SPLOSTs have failed at the ballots and that voters in the county may have lost some trust that local governments would spend SPLOST money wisely.
“We’ve had two fail now. I understand that, the distrust of the poiticans because of the 2005 SPLOST. I scolded the citizens of Peachtree City for the last one [a stormwater infrastructure SPLOST] where we gave up $7.1 million.”
Council Member Kim Learnard noted that a SPLOST is unique in that it requires local governments to specify a list of projects that the money can be spent on. Imker agreed that many details of that sort would have to be worked out if the idea went forward, but suggested the city could prioritize road and multi-use cart path paving, which another presentation Thursday night showed is well behind schedule in Peachtree City.
Imker also said the public would have to be properly informed of the tradeoff they were voting for.
“If this actually got implemented we’d definitely have to tell tax payers if the SPLOST ever went away they’d have to expect the mill rate to go back up,” Imker said.
Council Member Mike King said he liked the idea “in theory,” but suggested the estimate that a 1-cent tax increase would cost the average resident an extra $150 per year needed to be examined more.
“I think it’s a little higher than that,” King said.