There is this strange idea in western culture that idealizes independence and freedom, while shunning collaboration and compromise and dependence. I don’t exactly know all of the reasons for that, but I do know that in highlighting independence and freedom, westerners have sometimes resisted collaboration at the expense of the whole. In seeking our own best interests, we have infringed on others’ liberty and happiness.

That isn’t how healthy communities are created. Healthy communities realize that each individual part is affected by a larger system. If we don’t invest in schooling and public transit, we will then have to bear the consequence of homelessness, unemployment, and crime – things which affect individuals. Without seeing how the two are connected – that systems impact people’s individual situations – we will never be able to come up with a sustainable solution.

Which is why I want to talk about SPLOST and TADs (great segway, huh?). SPLOSTs and TADs are public financing mechanisms that help support healthy systems. These healthy systems help promote healthy lives for all individuals living within them. Healthy systems require compromise, time, effort, collaboration, and leadership, and a SPLOST and a TAD are two of the ways our financial economy has devised in order to fund these ideas into existence.

If we feel our schools are underperforming and underfunded, then we need to look at ways to maximize our funding and our performance. If we feel that one of the reasons our schools struggle is because of the high number of families living in poverty and in blighted communities, then we need to look at ways to address that, too.

And what if actualizing both of these goals could be partially achieved through public investment using a SPLOST and a TAD?

What Is SPLOST?

“SPLOST can fund any capital outlay projects that are owned or operated by either the county, a qualified municipality in the county, a local authority in the county, or some combination thereof. Capital outlay projects refers to major, permanent or long-lived improvements such as land, buildings and other structures, roads and bridges, and major items of equipment and vehicles.”

Click here to view more about what has been specifically proposed by DeKalb County Schools for SPLOST V.

What Goes on the Ballot?

(adapted from Smith, Gambrell, and Russell, LLP)

“The form of ballot language is set out in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-111, and reads as follows:

Shall a special 1 percent sales and use tax be imposed in the special district of _________ County for a period of time not to exceed __________ and for the raising of not more than an estimated amount of $_________ for the purpose of ______________?

When general obligation debt, repayable from the SPLOST, is to be authorized, certain language described below must be added to the ballot.”

Is DeKalb County School’s eSPLOST Specific Enough? Yes.

Last week, Senator Fran Millar wrote an open letter to Dr. Stephen Green, superintendent of the DeKalb County School District, warning him of possible legal challenges facing, what he calls, the lack of “specificity” in the SPLOST project list.

However, from what I have seen, it appears that DeKalb County has good legal precedent for proceeding with their current SPLOST project list. (And, for the record, I do not support the strong arm tactics that Senator Millar has at times attempted with the school district, so I hope that this post is not conflated with such tactics.)

Read below for an excerpt about SPLOST, also taken from the information provided by Smith, Gambrell, and Russel, LLP:

“Despite the apparent simplicity of the ballot form, it can present questions and difficulties. The ballot form requires that the purposes to which the tax will be applied be inserted. The degree of specificity required is not stated, but Unofficial Opinion of the Attorney General of Georgia No. U90-18 (1990) concludes:

There is no necessity that the description of the purpose or purposes for the tax be in exacting detail. Rather, . . . the description and the purposes must be only so specific as to place the electorate on fair notice of the projects to which the tax will be devoted.

The opinion suggests that a brief statement such as “county judicial facility” or “recreational facility to be constructed within the City of Canton” is sufficient. In the case Dickey v. Storey, 262 Ga. 452 (1992), the referendum question described county “recreational facilities and multi-purpose governmental facilities.” The Georgia Supreme Court apparently found this description adequate, and permitted the proposed location of facilities to be changed to some degree.”

Dr. Green and the proposed SPLOST projects seem to be within the law, and as such, I believe we should be able to vote for this E-SPLOST on May 24, 2016. Since Dr. Green has stated that he so strongly believes in the voters’ ability to decide on this SPLOST (as stated in his open response to Senator Fran Millar’s open letter), I believe the voice of the voters should also be heard when considering the school district’s participation in the Doraville TAD.

A Little Give and a Little Take

In my opinion, the SPLOST and the TAD represent a bit of a give and take for both the county and the school system. If DCSD wants to use a 1% sales tax (which is has for decades) to finance school projects and, in essence, the community, then I believe it to be reasonable to expect that DCSD (which spends more money per pupil than any other metro Atlanta county) could freeze the tax rate on the Doraville TAD site so that the increases in taxes on that site could be inserted into the development of that community.

If DCSD participates in the TAD, the school system would only be giving up the hypothetical increases in taxes for the 25-year life of the TAD, but during that time, DCSD would be receiving money from SPLOST funds – if approved.

Even if the development languishes, or if it develops into something less than desirable, DeKalb Schools will be no worse off than it is now. Currently it only receives $385,000 a year from the site as is. If the development takes place and is only half as successful as they say it will be, DCSD would get $8.5 million a year after the TAD. If it is worse off than it is now – which I cannot even fathom how that would be possible – then DCSD will have been shielded from a decline in taxes for that 25-year period. However, the projected value of the property taxes received annually after the 25-year TAD is about $17 million, which is 47 times the amount we currently get annually.

tad breakdown

I believe working together and compromising is a part of building a successful school district, and our district is and has been divided for too long. We need to stop focusing on only fixing one certain attendance zone, or one particular region, or one particular school. Perhaps this year can mark the beginning of a new DeKalb in which the northern and southern parts of the county unite to see a significant investment in our schools and our communities – which are interconnected.

This will take the voters – who don’t all have children in the school district – approving a SPLOST district-wide, and it will take the school district – who needs to capitalize on opportunities to grow the tax digest in order to have money to educate students — approving a TAD in order to put the maximum amount of funding into our school district.

We must invest in all aspects of our community – but we have to begin to see that one region’s economic success (or failure) affects the entire region.

What Are the Real Risks?

There are really only 2 risks, as I see it:

  1. Some people still do not understand what a TAD is, and because of that, if Dr. Green participates, it may be unpopular with that group.
  2. Some people – who believe the development will happen without the TAD – will believe we have given up valuable property taxes. (I can respect this position, but I, and others, definitely believe the development will be significantly less successful, without the creation of the TAD.  In this case, the school district will be worse off if we don’t participate.)

Conclusion

We need public funding to accomplish community revitalization, and we cannot just address economic development or just education. When possible, we need to address these things in tandem, maximizing the positive outcomes for our communities.

I only ask that Dr. Green and the DCSD school board consider the benefits of a TAD and at least talk with the stakeholders in the community. At the very, very least – please allow the school board members the opportunity to represent their constituents by allowing the board to vote on the school district participation in the TAD. The school district is asking the same for the SPLOST vote on May 24, and I only believe it is fair for the board to have the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to the TAD.