CHATSWORTH, Ga. - Murray County residents will vote in March on whether they want to extend a 1 percent sales tax expected to raise about $27 million over six years.
During a commissioner's meeting Friday morning, sole Commissioner Greg Hogan passed a resolution asking that the referendum be placed on the ballot during Georgia's presidential primary elections next spring. He also approved intergovernmental agreements with Chatsworth and Eton on how to divide the tax proceeds.
Murray County now has a 7 percent sales tax, with 1 percent of that set to expire in December 2012 if voters do not approve the renewal. That tax was approved in September 2006, with 87 percent of votes in favor of its passage.
"If we do not get this renewed, there is no choice but to raise [property] taxes or borrow money," Hogan said during a question-and-answer session after the commissioner's meeting. "We've not got one dollar in our general fund for capital projects."
A preliminary budget projects the county will spend nearly $15.7 million next year while bringing in only $14.7 million in revenue. Hogan is scheduled to approve a final budget later this month.
The county has drawn on its reserve fund during the last two years, with less than $4 million remaining by the end of this year.
If the referendum is approved, Murray County plans to spend the money on equipment for various departments, $2.5 million for the fire department, $8.7 million for roads and bridges and $7 million for the Murray County hospital.
County roads seriously need repairs, Hogan said, calling the state of the roads "a devastation."
Under the intergovernmental agreements, Chatsworth will receive 10.5 percent of the sales tax revenue, which will include $1.5 million for public safety, $950,000 for infrastructure and $750,000 for city streetscapes. Chatsworth receives 10 percent under the current agreement.
Eton will receive 2 percent of the money, which doubles the 1 percent it now receives. It will spend the money for equipment and vehicles for the street, fire and police departments and recreation improvements.
Hogan said the increases to the cities reflect the population growth in those areas. Both cities also have agreed to help Murray County on some county projects, he said.
Several people attending Friday's meeting asked Hogan and other officials if they believe the tax will pass, given that Whitfield County soundly defeated a 1 percent referendum in November.
Hogan said he believed the Murray County referendum could not be compared to Whitfield's case.
"In Whitfield County there was a lot of disagreement between city and county officials; we are all in agreement that we need this," Hogan said.
Dalton city officials opposed Whitfield's tax referendum.
"This is not a wish list, it is 99 percent a necessity list," Hogan added.
Susan Longley, interim director of Murray Medical Center patient care services, attended Friday's meeting to learn more about the tax referendum and voice her support.
The money is critical for the hospital, which employs about 120 people, Longley said.
"We are struggling, and without a hospital there is no community," she said.