By James Bell

On April 1st Douglas County increased sales tax to 7 percent after a narrowly approved (32 votes) Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum last November. The SPLOST was to raise $150 million for a jail and to issue $120 million in bonds secured with our property. Needed projects such as road improvements, parks, etc. were excluded. The SPLOST/Jail issue has divided this county.

Pro-tax voters were voting with the belief that a 1500 bed jail was needed in Douglas County. It will be one of the largest in the state. They believed it was needed because their elected officials told them so. They were told the jail would be built with or without SPLOST dollars. They were told by the commissioners that they would see a property tax increase if they voted no.

The other half of the voters saw no need to build such a massive prison in this county. Some questioned the need to issue a general obligation bond for $120 million plus interest to build the jail. Some thought that alternatives to prison construction were never considered. Others were fed up with the commissioners repeatedly placing the issue on the ballot in spite of the fact that a majority of voters rejected the tax twice.

So, the commissioners got what it wanted. A massive jail, twice as large as is needed for our county, costing twice as much as other counties spent on their facilities. The county will abandon the $7 million Sheriff’s office annex that we are still paying for, to move into a $50 million administrative faculty near the interstate.

Now, according to a recent study, Georgia has an excess of jail space. Counties are scuffling over state inmates to help offset the cost of operating these facilities. Some cities and counties are considering closing their jails and correctional facilities because of expensive operations and maintenance cost, a cost that can not be sustained in this economy.

Opponents of the SPLOST can be proud that for 33 months they saved at least $50 million. Money we kept in our pockets and put back into the economy.

We can be proud that we stopped a $17 million YMCA and a multi-million dollar horse and dog park. We stopped a performing arts center. Had these facilities been built, they would have bankrupted this county or caused a massive property tax increase to cover the cost of operations, maintenance, and the hiring of dozens of staff, with benefits, to run these projects.

One issue I do regret in defeating the 2007 SPLOST is; we lost $25 million for road improvements. We can all agree we need road funds. It will now be 2017 before the county can call another SPLOST vote. Driving around our county it is obvious our roads are deteriorating and resurfacing is needed. But they have no cash to make repairs.

The future of Douglas County will be a “state of the art” prison with roads and streets of a third world nation.

Our commissioners deserve the credit or in this case… the blame.

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