Tuesday, August 28, 2012

SCHS Pigskin Update

A couple of Fridays back, my alma mater Indians hosted St. Pius X in a preseason scrimmage, losing to the Golden Lions by the score of 20-14.  Those interested may watch the GHSA video on YouTube.

This week, the team kicks off the 2012 campaign by traveling down the road to Carnesville to face long-time 8AAA rival Franklin County in a non-conference tilt.  The Indians, (0-0, 0-0) and the Lions (0-0, 0-0) have been playing this annual battle of the county line since . . . well, forever.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Primer On Special-Purpose Sales Taxes

Read the column here.

The foregoing is intended as a brief outline only.  Even though the various sales taxes mentioned above are all variations of the same general concept, the legal structures and technicalities governing each vary considerably insofar as duration of the tax, on what the revenue may be spent, and how the sales revenue is to be distributed, etc.  In fact, this is another of those instances when I could have penned a good comparison and contrast of the various local option sales taxes, but such a thing would have come in several times longer than my target of 750 words.  Be that as it may, those who so desire can employ the links below to learn all that they may desire about the subject (and then some).

In addition to the 4% sales tax collected by the State of Georgia, four other 1% optional sales taxes may be collected at the county level (excepting the MARTA levy unique to the Atlanta area) and a fifth may be collected at the special transportation district level, though not all can operate simultaneously.

A county may levy "up to two" local option sales taxes, but this limit only applies to 1) LOST, 2) HOST (a county cannot have LOST and HOST both, and 3) SPLOST. ELOST, levied for the benefit of a school district, does not county against this limit, thereby making the limit three in a practical sense. Even what some of these taxes cover can vary by county depending on when they were enacted by the county in question.   And, of course, TSPLOST is on top of all of these and is unaffected by any limit on county-level optional sales taxes.

According to the Georgia Department of Revenue, Sales and Use Tax is defined as “a tax upon the consumption of tangible personal property and certain services.  It is levied or imposed upon retail sales, rentals, leases, uses, or consumption of tangible personal property and certain services that are specifically taxed under the Georgia Retailers and Consumers Sales and use Tax Act.”

The Georgia Supreme court invalidated 1975’s original LOST statute in 1979, ruling that counties had no constitutional basis for sharing revenue with municipalities.  The General Assembly rewrote the law in 1979, this time creating 159 “special districts” through which the program could be administered.  Not coincidentally, those special districts correspond exactly to the boundaries of the state’s 159 counties.

The LOST statute continues to evolve.  In 1994, a provision was added requiring counties and qualified cities to renegotiate their respective revenue distributions following every decennial census.  This was followed in 1997 by a provision that required county and municipalities governments to adopt “service delivery strategies,” so as to eliminate the duplication of services and bridge any gaps that may exist in the provision of services.  Finally, 2009 saw the introduction of the so-called “baseball arbitration” provision that enlisted the county’s superior court as a binding third-party arbitrator in case the parties cannot agree on a revenue distribution scheme.  None of these provisions are applicable to the other local option sales taxes mentioned.

Clarke County’s original SPLOST levy ran for a single year, from October 1985 through September 1986.  That was followed by a second levy running the four years from April 1988 through March 1992.  Following a three year hiatus, a pair of five-year levies ensued, spanning the periods from April 1995 through March 2000 and April 2000 through March 2005.  Next came a six-year affair, running from April 2005 through March 2011.  We are up to at least nine years with the current SPLOST 2011.  Notice how they keep getting longer and more expensive.

Ostensible control of ELOST levies resides with the county government as, by state law, a board of education is a “requesting authority,” as opposed to a county commission, which is a “levying authority; a school board cannot impose taxes in and of itself; it must request its levy though the county government.

Clarke County’s trio of completed ELOST levies ran from July 1997 through June 2002, from July 2002 through June 2007, from July 2007 through June 2012.  The current levy extends from July 2012 through June 2017.

The three optional sales tax implemented in Clarke County have become, for all intents and purposes, permanent additions to the tax landscape.  Yes, I realize that these levies are ostensibly “optional” (though to my mind the ballot resolution process is consistently stacked in favor of “pro” votes) and that the voters have approved them (but only with the consent of a plurality of the county’s registered voters).

To the best of my knowledge, Clarke County voters have denied but a single optional sales tax ballot resolution.  That happened back in 1993, when a one-year SPLOST referendum, slated to retire general obligation bond debt on the Clarke County jail and general obligation intergovernmental debt on the Athens Downtown Development Authority parking debt, was defeated by the margin of about 3 to 2.  Otherwise, the single LOST, six of seven SPLOST, all four ELOST, and the recent T-SPLOST ballot resolutions have all passed here, usually by considerable margins (the T-SPLOST vote being a notable exception).

O.C.G.A. (See Title 48 – Revenue and Taxation, Chapter 8 – Sales and Use Taxes):

Department of Revenue Sales and Use Tax Overview:

Department of Revenue Sales Tax Rate Chart (July 2012):

Department of Revenue Sales and Use Tax Historical Rate Chart (July 2012):

Association County Commissioners of Georgia SPLOST Guide (March 2011):

Association County Commissioners of Georgia LOST Negotiations Guide (October 2011):

Georgia Municipal Association LOST Guide (January 2011):

Georgia Municipal Association SPLOST Guide (June 2004):

New Georgia Encyclopedia article on “Revenue Sources, Local:”

Addendum - And just to gum up the works even more, a school district does not have the power to levy taxes. In legal parlance, it is a "requesting authority." It must go through the county government to levy its taxes for it. That is why the Athens-Clarke County Commission, as the county's "levying authority," must formally enact the Clarke County School District's property tax levies. Of course, according to case law the Commission has no legal authority to deny the CCSD's requests (assuming that they are made in a legal manner), but that is fodder for another day.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

SCHS Pigskin Preview

That most hallowed time of year is upon us once again, and by that I of course mean football season.

First, let’s recap Stephens County’s last campaign, and a fine one it was.  The Indians finished the season with a record of 9-3, losing to Cairo in the second round of the state playoffs (the Syrupmakers were the number one seed out of Region 1AAA; the road trip to Grady County for the Indians was more than 300 miles – one way).  All three of the teams to beat Stephens County, Elbert County in Class AA, Gainesville in Class AAA, and Cairo in Class AAA, all made it to at least the third round of the state playoffs.  So, all in all, not such a bad effort.

Second, a word about GSHA's revised regional classifications is in order.  SCHS jumps to Region 8AAAA for the upcoming campaign.  Perhaps “returns” is a better terminology, as my admittedly feeble recollection is that SCHS was in Region 8AA through my freshman year, moved up to Region 8AAAA for my sophomore and junior years, and then dropped back to Region 8AAA for my senior year.  And there the Indians stayed for more than three decades (and yes, I am thereby dating myself).  Anyway, now that GHSA has expanded its classification system, I guess that some reshuffling was in order.

The current composition of the revised Region 8AAAA is:
Chestatee (Gainesville)
Eastside (Covington)
Lanier (Sugar Hill)
Lumpkin County (Dahlonega)
Madison County (Danielsville)
Monroe Area (Monroe)
Stephens County (Toccoa)
Walnut Grove (Walnut Grove)

Finally, consider this season’s schedule:

17 August – St. Puis X Catholic makes the trip up from the big city to take on the Indians in a scrimmage game at The Reservation.  The Golden Lions are in Region 6AAA.

31 August – The season opens up with the Indians making a short road trip to Carnesville to face long-time rival Franklin County.  The Lions reside in Region 8AAA.

07 September – Habersham Central crosses the hump from Mt Airy for the annual “Battle of Currahee Mountain.”  The raiders are in Region 7AAAAAA.

14 September – The Indians trek down to Hartwell to face Hart County.  The Bulldogs are a Region 8AAA team.

21 September – The Walnut Grove Warriors come to The Reservation for a Region 8AAAA conference game.  This is “Homecoming Night” at The Reservation.

28 September – The Chestatee War Eagles come to Toccoa from Gainesville for a Region 8AAAA conference game.  This is “Recreation Night” at The Reservation.

05 October – OPEN

12 October – The Indians travel to Monroe to take on the Monroe Area Hurricanes in a Region 8AAAA conference game.

19 October – Region 8AAAA conference play continues as the Indians commute to Danielsville to combat the Madison County Red Raiders.

26 October – The Lanier Longhorns make the trip from Sugar Hill to face the Indians in a Region 8AAAA conference tilt.  This is “Band Senior Night” at The Reservation.

02 November – The Eastside Eagles arrive at The Reservation from Covington to battle with the Indians in a region 8AAAA contest.  This is “Senior Night” at The Reservation.

09 November – The regular season ends with the real Indians traveling to Dahlonega to take on the Lumpkin County (bizarre) Indians in a final Region 8AAAA contest.

See the SCHS football pages at the SCHS web site, MaxPreps, and Home Teams Online.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

A Postmortem On T-SPLOST

Read the column here.

In addition to the one-sidedness of the votes noted in my column proper, consider what follows.

The voting was in the Northeast Georgia District was amazingly lopsided. See just how much so for yourselves:
Barrow 29.24% yes 70.76% no
Clarke 51.72% yes 48.28% no
Elbert 42.45% yes 57.55% no
Greene 41.06% yes 58.94% no
Jackson 25.60% yes 74.40% no
Jasper 35.62% yes 64.38% no
Madison 38.01% yes 61.99% no
Morgan 31.76% yes 68.24% no
Newton 36.47% yes 63.53% no
Oconee 34.97% yes 65.03% no
Oglethorpe 36.00% yes 64.00% no
Walton 26.92% yes 73.08% no
Total 35.30% yes 64.70% no

See the Northeast Georgia District results here:

See the Northeast Georgia District results by county here:

Also, as mentioned in the column, treating the dozen referenda as a collective whole, the statewide story was just the same: 622,594 votes in favor of the various referenda versus 982,815 votes against, or 38.78% yes and 61.12% no.

See the statewide results here:

And here is another thing: the T-SPLOST referenda were timed specifically to result in low turnouts. So, the T-SPLOST referenda, through which Georgians wetr to decide the fate of a decade-long $18 BILLION tax plan, were scheduled for July, rather than to coincide with the presidential preference primary held a few months earlier in the year or the general election to be held a few months later. The politicians learned long ago to schedule these “optional” sales tax votes so as to guarantee most voters will not show up at the polls. The statewide turnout was measly a 31.28 percent; in the Northeast Georgia District, the similarly low turnouts by county were marginally higher:
Barrow 24.18%
Clarke 23.61%
Elbert 43.57%
Greene 42.26%
Jackson 38.87%
Jasper 48.29%
Madison 42.50%
Morgan 39.17%
Newton 30.92%
Oconee 45.68%
Oglethorpe 33.09%
Walton 33.56%

See turnouts by county here (just click on the map):

Note that the number of “no” votes in just the Atlanta Regional District (418,423) was TWO-THIRDS (67.21% to be precise) of the total number of “yes” votes statewide (622,594).

Also, note that the number of “no” votes in the just Atlanta Regional District (again, 418,423), was MORE THAN TWICE THE TOTAL NUMBER OF VOTES, both for and against, the three referenda in the districts in which it passed (Central Savannah River Area District [91,916] + River Valley District [55,454] + Heart of Georgia Altamaha District [55,433] = 202,803).

All of my vote totals were taken from the Secretary of State’s web site as of mid-morning on Thursday, at which time only a couple of counties still had incomplete results.

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