Less than 5 percent of Bryan County voters took to the polls, but those who did overwhelmingly approved the SPLOST renewal Tuesday, 84 percent to 16 percent.
SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) is an extra 1 percent sales tax that municipalities can use for capital improvement projects. The new cycle is expected to raise about $33 million over six years. Of that money, the county would receive about $18.8 million, while the cities of Richmond Hill and Pembroke would get $11 million and $3.2 million, respectively. The money is divided based on the percentage of population within the county.
The final tally was 802 votes in favor and 149 against, which included two weeks of early voting. That represents less than 5 percent of the county's roughly 22,000 registered voters.
County Commissioners Chairman Carter Infinger said the outcome was a “vote of confidence,” but he was surprised by the low turnout.
“I think it means people see SPLOST as a good thing and that we handle the money responsibly,” he said. “We would like to see more people get involved though.”
County Administrator Ben Taylor said 80 percent of the SPLOST money the county receives is spent on countywide services — which benefit city residents equally — and are mandated by the state. Those services include libraries, courts, the sheriff’s office and elections, to name a few.
Taylor said other county SPLOST money is spent on countywide services that are not mandated by the state but still benefit all residents, such as 911, recreation, animal control and economic development.
“That’s why the SPLOST law reads like it does,” Taylor has said in the past. “It puts the county in the driver’s seat because we are responsible for so much.”
Richmond Hill City Councilman Russ Carpenter has previously called SPLOST “property tax relief.” Officials estimate that without it, millage rates would be at least one-third higher.
Voters in Pembroke also passed a Freeport Exemption, which means that e-commerce fulfillment centers that locate in the city will not pay local inventory tax on items held at such centers for 12 months or less as long as the location is used to pack, ship, store or process tangible personal property sold my electronic means and does not allow customers to purchase or receive goods on-site. The exemption was passed countywide a year ago and Richmond Hill voters will consider the measure in 2018.
In the city of Richmond Hill, while there was no vote due to unopposed races, there will be changes to city council come January. Councilman Russ Carpenter will replace Harold Fowler as mayor. The city charter has term limits that prevent a person from serving more than two terms as mayor. Tara Baraniak will replace Carpenter on the council and Councilman Johnny Murphy will serve a second term.