Photo Credit: Travis Edrington
Renovations at Bear Hollow Zoo are one of 37 projects on the SPLOST 2020 list.
SPLOST—pronounced “spee-lost” by some—stands for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Not to be confused with ESPLOST (for schools) or TSPLOST (for transportation), it’s a 1% tax that communities can use to build or buy things they might not otherwise be able to afford if they relied on property taxes alone.
Athens voters have approved six previous rounds of SPLOST dating back to 1985, which paid for the Athens Regional Library, the Classic Center, Southeast Clarke Park, Trail Creek Park, restoring the Morton Theatre, a new jail, public art and countless other park, road and infrastructure projects. The current proposal is an extension of the existing tax, not a new one.
This year’s list—chosen mostly by a 22-member citizens advisory committee—is topped by a $78 million “facilities space modernization project.” This would involve building a new courthouse to replace the current overcrowded and outdated one, then renovating the existing building to house Athens-Clarke County government offices that are now scattered throughout the city. Other big-ticket items include $45 million for affordable housing—most of which would go toward redeveloping the aging Bethel Midtown Village apartment complex near downtown—and $34 million for a Classic Center arena.
Some argue that sales taxes are regressive, which is true, but Georgia law offers no other option besides drastically raising property taxes. Sales taxes are also the only way for out-of-town commuters, tourists, convention-goers, football fans and other visitors, as well as UGA students living on campus, to help pay for local roads, parks, government buildings and other amenities.
Early voting is underway at the ACC Board of Elections at 155 E. Washington St. from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. through Friday, Nov. 1. Four other locations—the Miriam Moore Community Center (410 McKinley Dr.), the Athens Regional Library (2025 Baxter St.), the ACC Cooperative Extension Office (275 Cleveland Road) and City Hall (301 College Ave.) are opening Wednesday, Oct. 30. Hours at the Miriam Moore Community Center, the extension office and City Hall will be 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Oct. 30 and 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Hours at the library will be the same, except it will open at 10 a.m. Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. There is no early voting the Monday before Election Day. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, vote between 7 a.m.–7 p.m. at your regular polling place.
It’s important to note that the list is being voted on as a whole—voters can’t pick and choose.
While the judicial center and Classic Center arena drew some criticism when the ACC Mayor and Commission was approving the final list back in July, little organized opposition to SPLOST 2020 has emerged. The Clarke County Republican Party is urging a "no" vote (while falsely implying that it is a tax increase; if approved, local sales taxes will stay at the current level of 8%). The Athens-Clarke County Democratic Committee has endorsed SPLOST 2020. Progressive group Athens for Everyone is not taking a position.
The SPLOST citizens advisory committee has morphed into Friends of Athens-Clarke County SPLOST 2020, which is promoting the tax and has set up a website at votesplost2020.org. More information about individual projects is also available at accgov.com/splost. The full $314 million list of 37 projects is below.
Mayor and Commission Designated
Facilities Space Modernization $77.9 million
Affordable Housing $44.5 million
Classic Center Arena $34 million
SPLOST Bond Debt Service $16 million
Fire Department Equipment $2.7 million
Fire Department No. 5 Replacement $6.2 million
E911 Phone System Replacement $767,000
Public Safety Vehicle and Equipment Replacement $8 million
Mobile Medical Services Facility $500,000
Environmental Mitigation and Restoration $2 million
Renewable Energy $15.8 million
Greenspace Acquisition and Sustainability $826,000
Holland Youth Sports Complex Improvements $5 million
Athens West Park $1.8 million
Sandy Creek Nature Center Exhibit $308,000
Memorial Park Improvements $5.9 million
Beech Haven Park Improvements $4.6 million
Tallassee Forest Nature Preserve Improvements $2.9 million
Bishop Park Improvements $5 million
Parks Facilities Improvements $6.7 million
Bear Hollow Zoo Improvements $5.3 million
Facilities and Infrastructure
Broadband Connectivity Enhancement $6.5 million
East Athens Youth and Community Enrichment Facilities $4 million
Animal Shelter Improvements $559,000
Eastside Public Library $14.5 million
Recovered Material Processing and Reuse Facility $8.5 million
Facilities Equipment/Systems Replacement $7.9 million
Mental Health Recovery Facility $5.3 million
Welcome Center Access Improvements $825,000
Transportation and Public Works
Airport Capital Improvements $5.3 million
Vincent Drive Sidewalk $1.9 million
Tallassee Road Connector $4 million
Jackson Street Art Walk $3.4 million
Water Trails $750,000
Live Stream Pipe Replacement $500,000
City of Winterville $3 million
City of Bogart $378,000