Sales Tax Draws Early Opposition; the Proposal for Replacing Property Taxes Isn't Much Favored by Elected Officials

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Byline: GORDON JACKSON

KINGSLAND - Proposed legislation to replace property taxes with a statewide sales tax is generating serious debate among elected officials throughout the region.

Though Glynn County Board of Education has taken no official stance, board Chairman Dave Smith said school officials throughout Georgia oppose the legislation.

"I'm not aware of anybody on our board who thinks this is a good idea," he said. "I'm beginning to see a local ground swell of opposition. It [the proposed legislation] makes my blood chill."

Despite the lack of support by local governments, state Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, said taxpayers support the legislation by a 2-1 margin. The opposition is by local governments, including county commissions, city councils and school boards.

Keen described the opposition as premature because a final version of the proposed legislation hasn't been drafted.

"Right now, they're lobbying against something that hasn't been written," Keen said. "Why would you arbitrarily reject this before you look to see if it works?"

The major concern expressed by city officials such as Kingsland Mayor Kenneth Smith is how money collected by the state will be returned to municipalities, especially for unexpected expenditures such as replacing a fire engine or a costly breakdown in water and sewage treatment plants.

"The services will be delayed," said the mayor, who also is vice president of the Georgia Municipal Association. "I feel it's detrimental legislation."

Jim Higdon, executive director for the Georgia Municipal Association, said his organization opposes the legislation.

"It appears to be a power grab to control every facet of government, including local government," he said. "It's just a huge tax shift, is what it is."

Local property taxes would be replaced with an 8 percent sales tax that the state would return to local municipalities, he said. But the 8 percent does not include local option sales taxes collected by cities, counties and school boards.

In Camden County, for example, people will pay a 10 percent sales tax. And some services now exempt, such as haircuts, lawn and maid service, doctor's and lawyer's visits, prescription drugs, dry cleaning and grave digging, will be taxed, he said. …