Post-Election Day, WUGA's Alexia Ridley sits down with Editor of Oconee Observation, Lee Becker to discuss the vote in Oconee County that sent a TSPLOST proposal down to a narrow defeat.
Voters in Oconee County voted Tuesday to reject a one penny transportation special local option sales tax or TSPLOST, like the one in Athens-Clarke County that's funded projects like the Firefly Trail, fare-free public transit, and new sidewalks. Here to talk about that with us today is Lee Becker, editor of Oconee County Observations.
This transcript has been edited for clarity
First, can you tell me what was the turn out for this year's election in Oconee County?
10.7% was the turn out, so pretty low turn out.
Why was it so low and how does that compare with previous years?
Well, this was the only issue on the ballot county wide. The only comparison that I think we can make, that makes any sense at all, is with the education local option sales tax, which was on the ballot as a sole item in the county in March. It actually had a lower turn out that was only about 6%.
Well, you mentioned that earlier this year Oconee County did vote to approve that ESPLOST which is an education sales tax, like the one Athens voters voted to approve earlier this week. Do you have any idea why the TSPLOST has failed to attract the same support?
Well, the ESPLOST was approved by 83.6% of the people so I mean overwhelming support.
The Oconee County Schools and Board of Education had made a very conscious public effort to launch that campaign and direct the campaign at the employees, the teachers, the others in the school, and the parents. So, they really targeted the people most likely to be willing to support the tax.
It also was a continuation of its tax, unlike the TSPLOST, which was a new tax, it was in fact not going to change the tax rate it was only going to extend it. So, those are important differences, I think.
The TSPLOST didn't have anyone really working for it. The county Board of Commissioners put it on the ballot, but the Chamber of Commerce, no one else really came forward to speak for it. There was no one speaking against it, so it was kind of out there by itself.
I think because it also was a new tax, so it was going to increase the tax from 7 to 8%. So, I think that is a difference, a significant difference, probably in people minds.
And do you know what projects that TSPLOST would have funded had voters in Oconee County approved it?
Yeah, the Commissioners had not identified specific projects, but four buckets of projects. The most important one was paving of roads. The second category that they talked about was intersections, intersection improvements. Now the third category was paths, multi-use paths. The 4th category was one that one would have thought would have been quite attractive.
They identified monies that were in the current general fund budget that are being used for transportation and they said that spending would be transferred to TSPLOST during the five years that it was in effect.
Because of that, they planned to reduce the millage rate by 1 mill. And so, we have a 6.6 mill rate in the county. And they were going to reduce it to 5.6, so that was really an effort to transfer some of the spending that is currently underway for transportation from property tax to sales tax.
I expected that that would be something that would be attractive, but I don't know to what extent people really understood that it. It didn't convince the majority of people.