The Nov. 7 ballot for DeKalb voters will include a special local option sales tax referendum to raise the tax a penny, from 7 percent to 8 percent.
But that’s not the only choice voters will be making – voters will also be voting on two other measures: an EHOST, or equalization homestead option sales tax, and to freeze home property values for city and county taxes permanently while the EHOST and SPLOST are in place. The EHOST and SPLOST both have to pass for them to be enacted.
DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond and State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) appeared together at Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst’s Oct. 26 town hall to discuss the SPLOST legislation they worked on together in the last General Assembly session.
Ernst praised the cities coming together to work with DeKalb on a legislation they all could agree on and called it a “transformative” moment in the county’s history.
Millar, who sponsored the legislation, joked at the beginning of his background on the bill, “First of all, what’s interesting, is you’ve got a Democratic black CEO and a white Republican from Dunwoody working together” for the people of DeKalb County.
Millar sponsored the bill and pushed it through the legislature and said he worked closely with Thurmond on the sales tax increase vote that be in effect for six years if approved. Millar said he agreed with Thurmond’s request to not implement the penny tax increase on pharmaceuticals and unprepared food, or groceries. That way, senior citizens and lower income residents won’t be hit particularly hard.
The current homestead option sales tax, or HOST, sets aside 80 percent for property tax relief for homeowners with the remaining 20 percent going toward capital projects, Millar said. If the EHOST and SPLOST are approved, then 100 percent of the EHOST funds will go toward property tax relief while the SPLOST funds will be used for capital projects.
Because of how the current HOST is set up, DeKalb County receives only $2 million a year of that 20 percent for capital projects, Millar said, while the cities get $20 million.
“The county can’t do a lot with $2 million,” Millar said.
If the SPLOST is approved, DeKalb will get about $60 million a year over six years, with a major chunk of that going toward transportation projects, he said. If the SPLOST is approved, the city of Brookhaven will receive $47 million over six years and the city of Dunwoody would receive about $42 million over six years.
Millar said he knows some people living in unincorporated DeKalb believe they’re not getting a “fair shake,” but said going from $2 million a year to $60 million a is a good deal.
While there are no specific project lists outlined either by the county of the cities on what they will spend SPLOST revenues if the referendum is approved, Millar said the legislation limits how the money can be spent to just a few categories: transportation and infrastructure, public safety and up to 15 percent for capital project repairs.
Thurmond said the ballot initiatives would provide “historic tax relief to homeowners in DeKalb.”
“We’re excited about this,” Thurmond said. “I can’t advocate for it, but I can tell you how I’m going to vote … and I’m going to vote yes. It’s a transformative moment, as the mayor said.” As DeKalb elected officials, Thurmond and the mayors and council members of the cities in DeKalb are not legally allowed to advocate for a bill that benefits their governmental entity.
Millar, as a state representative who wrote the bill, said he can advocate for the bill and said he will also be voting for it.
Mailers discussing the SPLOST are being mailed to DeKalb residents and are not being paid for by the taxpayers, Millar said. The organization mailing them out is the DeKalb Issues Education Fourm, a nonprofit that registered with the Secretary of State on Sept. 26, 2017.