What started out as the required off-year municipal election involving only three Rome City Commission posts, and likely to be enlivened only by cluck-clucking about chickens in the event any challengers appear, now looms as a potential blockbuster. For hometown impact it could dwarf last year’s presidential election.
The Floyd County Commission is audibly whispering about putting not one but TWO special-purpose, local-option sales tax (SPLOST) proposals on the ballot, one for general city/unincorporated area improvements and a second for school enhancements. The current governmental SPLOST (new public-safety radio network, etcetera) runs out in mid-year; the current educational one (new Model High, etc.) in May of next year.
Additionally, the county is also considering having a referendum on whether to allow Sunday alcohol package sales in the unincorporated area on the same ballot (Rome already has that).
For the record, this newspaper has long been of “make” mentality and likely to support almost anything put on the ballot that involves investment in progress. That is not meant to imply that mistakes in the eventual specific content won’t be made. They have before but, on the scales of success, far more good things have resulted than whoopsies.
Frankly, after a long dark night in which voters routinely rejected improvements via bond issues (which would have added to property taxes) the arrival of the SPLOST tool (sales tax) turned everything around locally, beginning with the approval of widening Shorter Avenue in 1986. Since then, for almost three decades, citizens have more often than not shown confidence in themselves by investing in all sorts of positive improvements that they currently enjoy ... even now take for granted.
WERE IT NOT for the consistent series of SPLOST investments, plus a can-do attitude on the part of community and business leaders, Greater Rome would be known as Lesser Rome and akin to Moldova (look it up), the poorest and most underdeveloped nation in Europe. Never heard of it? Without the SPLOST nobody in Georgia or the nation would have heard of Rome either.
That’s why Rome Mayor Evie McNiece recently stated that another SPLOST (governmental) is necessary: “There were so many projects that we were able to develop because of the citizens of Rome putting forth that penny on themselves — so many great things this city would never have had. That’s why it’s important to have it — especially while we’re in the mode of progress. This is just another tool to continue this progress and make us more competitive in the state, so we can attract new business and industry.”
Not only that but, as City Manager John Bennett pointed out, every county adjacent to Greater Rome currently is investing in itself with long-term SPLOST revenues actually approved while economic times were even worse than at present.
A SPLOST and self-confidence of the overall community don’t assure that Greater Rome will keep up with the rest of the runners. Not even being in the race guarantees but one thing: being the loser.
Indeed, the inclination of the school boards/citizen committees that will decide on the projects should be to go full bore, to opt for a burst of speed and have both SPLOSTs be of maximum duration — six years. At minimum, assuming the unlikely event of no improvement in present tax-collection paces, continuing what is actually the current two cents per dollar spent on SPLOST investment would be about $72 million times two ($148 million). At best, assuming a quickening pace of general economic revival, it could be close to $100 million times two ($200 million).
IT IS FAR too early to predict anything about a November outcome other than it will likely define Greater Rome’s future ... and perhaps even if it has a future.
Most are fully aware that pessimism should attend any such effort. Not only are anti-tax forces far noisier than their actual numbers but the County Commission’s current slash-and-burn budgeting does not exude much confidence in the future — and it is this body that makes the governmental SPLOST call on the final project list. Additionally, the county schools are undergoing a major upheaval and reduction of staffing that is angering many. That mood, unfairly, could influence opinions regarding whatever is proposed by way of new or better buildings (Coosa High should be next up for the modernity that Pepperell and Model have already received) or availability of educational content (an Arts Academy to join the new Career Academy?).
Even the Sunday package sales suggestion for the unincorporated area threatens to rally the remnants of the blue-nosed army once in total control of this region for a “last stand.” In reality, in a nation that prides itself on allowing freedom, this should be a no-brainer. Nobody should force you to consume alcohol and that means, to preserve that option, you should refuse no one a different opinion or beverage choice.
About the only thing obvious at this moment is that whatever is proposed must be both “sold” and explained far, far better than the defeated SPLOST of a year ago for $32.4 million (the city approved it, the outlying areas killed it) that was actually to maintain necessities rather than do significant new things. Sufficient turnout to assure a true majority of voters/taxpayers provide the “yea” or “nay” must be achieved the next time, not assumed.
AND ANY LIST of proposed projects should be accompanied by a priority list that is legally binding informing the electorate that the first dollar to come in will be spent on this, the second on this, and the last on this ... if it appears and if it doesn’t then don’t count upon it. And if a new economic nightmare should arrive and the second dollar vanish, then that is gone as well. The people have to know, for absolutely certain, what they will get out of this no matter what else transpires in the always unknown future.
Nonetheless, it is way, way too early to assume anything about November or to allow a fog of gloom to influence either the project list or the duration of a SPLOST. Whether $148 million or $200 million might flow into such coffers over six years (2014-2020) one very much doubts any Greater Roman would have trouble coming up with a “dream list” of how and where to spend such a sum on community betterment. The content would surely vary but the $200 million would not be difficult to spend. Indeed, it would likely leave out many desirable things that might not have the added strength of being necessary.
There will be plenty of time as potential projects are openly discussed — as they have in the past — for both citizens and this newspaper to chime in with their opinions. Right now, all that is known for certain is that the County Commission appears to be holding out a wriggling bag that might contain a golden goose, a platypus of many odd parts, or a vulture.
As of this immediate moment, only one thing should be considered certain. Floyd, Rome and Cave Spring appear likely, in November, to decide whether they wish to be an underdeveloped backwater far from where the action is, largely unheard of and with continual plights — like Moldova or Haiti — or give themselves, their children and generations yet unborn a brighter tomorrow.
THAT’S OUR two cents on the swirl of SPLOST talk.