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County SPLOST Proposal – Unacceptable

I have been asked to share my thoughts on the proposed SPLOST list. In its current form, the proposed SPLOST list is unacceptable to me. To sum up why:

  • The county’s current proposed SPLOST project list is filled with “wants” while shortchanging “needs”.
  • Less than 50% of the SPLOST list is focused on the original intent of the legislation – funding road paving and infrastructure repairs.
  • The current SPLOST list proposes to use almost 10% of all SPLOST collections to fund a new, large government center complex.

Here’s how your sales tax in DeKalb is currently assessed:

DeKalb Sales Tax is 7%. Here’s the breakdown:

4% is a State of Georgia sales tax
1% is an Education SPLOST that goes to the DeKalb school district
1% is a tax that goes to MARTA
1% is a HOST (80% goes to property tax relief / 20% goes to infrastructure funding)
7% Sales Tax in DeKalb

So – why is there a proposal to add another penny?

The 2014 DeKalb County Operations Task Force recommended that our DeKalb County Legislative Delegation pass a bill allowing for the county to call a referendum to correct a growing inequity in the distribution of the HOST tax proceeds. Increasingly, due to the way the funding formula works, the majority of that 20% for infrastructure was going to cities. The county struggled with the loss of these funds and road maintenance suffered. The motivation behind the legislation (HB 215) that allows for the SPLOST referendum was:

  1. To give even more property tax relief to homeowners (convert the HOST property tax penny to 100% property tax relief) and,
  2. To create more infrastructure funding by adding another penny sales tax – all subject to the approval of voters in a countywide referendum.

Why I oppose the current SPLOST proposal:

In theory I favor replacing property tax with sales tax. I am also sympathetic to the unfortunate skew in HOST fund distribution. I am strongly in agreement with the motivation of legislators to help fund a robust road paving program. Sadly, as the county prepares the referendum question for the ballot, the proposed list of SPLOST projects has grown to include pet projects and monuments to government bureaucracy. This includes new parks, libraries, and an exceedingly large new government center – a Taj Mahal monument to ineffective government.

In addition to mission creep in the SPLOST list, important and defensible public safety improvements receive less funding than needed. Our police and fire departments both need new training facilities, yet SPLOST only proposes to fund 40% of this need. Fire Stations located within the city limits of any city have been removed no matter their current state of disrepair. Keep in mind, most fire stations within city limits serve areas that include multiple jurisdictions including multiple cities and unincorporated DeKalb. You should also note that you pay fire service tax to the county to protect life and property even as the county refuses to build or rebuild stations that are necessary to protect you.

I hope that elected officials in the county, the cities, and our legislature won’t be distracted by or focused on “wants” but rather “needs” as they evaluate the SPLOST proposal. I hope that our partners in city government won’t support a county referendum that provides them a new source of tax dollars for their city while burdening DeKalb’s taxpayers in all of the county, including cities, with a project as wasteful as a new government center. I hope that all elected officials will understand the county must focus on repairing the broken infrastructure that everyone must endure instead of adding more capital (Government Centers, parks, libraries, etc.) to an inventory of assets that are already poorly maintained.

We can consider a SPLOST that is serious about paving roads and addressing public safety. We must adhere to the original rationale for this proposal – paving and repairing roads and infrastructure. I will not support a SPLOST, raising your taxes, to fund pork barrel spending of any sort.

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NO on e-SPLOST – Here’s Why

On May 24th voters across DeKalb will see an e-SPLOST referendum on their ballot. If approved, it will be the fifth, 5-year e-SPLOST program for DeKalb County School District. What have we gotten for the almost $2 billion, over 20 years, of the e-SPLOST program? What can we expect from an e-SPLOST V?

I was on the Board of Education when e-SPLOST IV was designed and won approval. I voted no as a Board member to even take the referendum to the voters because the design was based on inaccurate assumptions and did not address the growing capacity needs of the district. I warned in 2011 that we were sentencing over a generation of children to attend schools in trailers for their entire school career.

I specifically asked that a new elementary school be built along the Buford Highway Corridor. I asked for the district to add capacity to the Dunwoody cluster, where elementary school trailers have been sitting for more than a decade, the middle school was built too small over parent objections in e-SPLOST III, and the high school isn’t prepared for the growing number of classrooms it will soon need.

I see a pattern in past e-SPLOSTs that left children, teachers, and taxpayers worse-off in aggregate despite the almost $2 billion we all paid to improve and expand our county’s schools. This pattern has existed across multiple superintendents. Despite the spending and relatively stable student population (hovering around +/-100K students), the use of trailers has grown over the years. The building needs also grow over the years because of your assets receive almost no maintenance and care.

All the spending to improve the learning environment has done little to improve academic aggregate outcomes in DeKalb. In addition to the poor aggregate achievement levels in DeKalb Schools, the one other consistent feature of the district has been the administrative staff. Yes, each new superintendent has brought in a few new people. Some of them have been a welcome change. Unfortunately, the district is plagued by the quiet undercurrent of perennial administrators that have been influential across multiple superintendents. And, no one should be shocked to learn that the exact same two outside consulting firms that brought you the last e-SPLOST debacle are also providing the guidance for e-SPLOST V.

These same failed administrators are now quietly advising the new superintendent behind the scenes and designing e-SPLOST V. Why should we expect anything different from the same people who have been so consistently incompetent, wrong, and biased? On what basis could anyone believe they should be the architects of the next e-SPLOST program? There’s a word for doing the same thing and expecting different results.

I call the current approach for e-SPLOST V, the “Kitchen Sink” referendum. Every school in DeKalb is listed as a potential for everything. The message:

“Vote for e-SPLOST V because you might get a new school. Or you might get an upgrade. Or nothing. But you have to play to find out. Go ahead, spin the wheel, and let’s see what DeKalb has in store for you. What could go wrong? And remember – It’s for the children.”

Yep, they’ve thrown the kitchen sink language right onto your May 24th ballot. The usual list of naïve and political operators are out there trying to rally support for this ridiculous referendum. There are the Charlie Browns who keep trying to kick that ball even as the rest of us know Lucy is going to yank that ball away every time. There’s the shrewd political types who received promises behind closed doors that their interests will be protected.

Hope is not a method and backroom deals are proof that e-SPLOST has never been about children. It certainly has never even been as simple as trying to put permanent roofs over our students’ heads. It’s been run by the same people with the same failed track record for years.

DeKalb Schools have seen their operating and capital coffers swell with your money as the economy has recovered. Very little has trickled down to the classroom. With all the resources that are at hand, their shouldn’t be a leaky roof, a broken HVAC system, moldy ceiling tiles, or the need for parents to send in basic cleaning supplies. But, sadly, these situations remain.

It needs to be stated and discussed that the school district has morphed, e-SPLOST, into a maintenance program as well. Even worse, the district spends your taxes on new capital projects that it doesn’t maintain. The school district should be dedicating millage to maintenance so that this cost is not shifted to an e-SPLOST program. This protects your investment.

• Until the school district replaces the failed administrators that have brought us to this low point;
• Until the school district gives us a concrete schedule of building projects for e-SPLOST V;
• Until the school district ends it’s opaque, uncooperative attitude, until the school district properly attends to the maintenance of the assets it already has;

Just say NO to this tax. The district will only make change when the spigot is turned off for a while. I’m voting no until the school district cleans up its act and gives me a firm project list. To vote otherwise is to embolden the incompetent bureaucrats who have brought you here and enable the continued trend of putting special, political interests ahead of what is in the best interests of children and taxpayers.