Dalton meeting about controversial sales tax draws no residents

Dalton meeting about controversial sales tax draws no residents

September 23rd, 2011 by Mariann Martin in News

Mike Babb

DALTON, Ga. -- Not a single resident showed up Thursday for a two-hour public meeting held to explain a controversial 1 percent regional transportation sales tax that voters will approve or reject next July.

Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb said he was "a little disappointed."

"If you are going to vote on something, you need to be educated," Babb said. "Even if they are going to vote 'no' they should find out what they are voting against."

Several Georgia Transportation Department employees set up 16 large maps -- one for each of the 15 counties in the Northwest Georgia region and one map with all 15 counties combined.

They laid out sign-up sheets and packets with information about the dozens of projects in the region.

Local county commissioners, the Whitfield County planner and the county manager were on hand to explain the projects and talk about why they were needed.

But no one came to take the packets or ask questions.

Babb said about 60 people attended a similar meeting in Cartersville on Tuesday. The event even drew several protesters, he said.

Lawmakers passed a law this spring that divides Georgia into transportation regions. If residents in a region don't vote on the tax in July or don't pass it, the region will receive fewer matching funds from the state Department of Transportation.

If passed across the state, the tax -- a special local option sales tax -- will pour about $16 billion to $19 billion into county coffers over 10 years, with about $1.3 billion going to Northwest Georgia, analysts said.

Northwest Georgia officials spent about a month compiling a list of projects for each county. They divided the money based on population and the amount of sales tax revenue each county will generate.

Tea party groups across the state have strongly opposed the tax and there are vocal opponents in Whitfield County.

The 30-member Regional Commission roundtable will vote on the final projects list on Sept. 29, the final step before the referendum.

Elected officials aren't sure whether the county voters will support the transportation SPLOST. The turnout Thursday might be an indication that most people have already made up their minds about the tax, Babb said.

Catoosa County Commissioner Jim Cutler, who attended the meeting, said he thinks the projects were fairly split and those in his county will benefit many of its residents.

"I understand the citizens' concerns that some of the money may go out of our county to other counties, but I think we will get our fair share," Cutler said. "A sales tax is one of the most fairest of taxes."

The regional tax allows counties to choose their projects rather than fight for approval from the state transportation department, Cutler said.