Penny sales tax collections in Cobb County are coming in much higher than predicted, putting the suburban county on track to collect upward of $15.2 million in unplanned revenue if the pace continues.
The trend is significant because it serves as another sign of the improved economic situation in Cobb. It also means the county will likely be able to fund more projects promised to voters when the extension of the 2011 special purpose local option sales tax was approved.
Taxpayer advocates, however, say overages like these are why the state should allow counties to collect less than a penny, if needed.
Bill Volckmann, who oversees accounting for Cobb’s SPLOST program, said the county tried to be conservative with revenue predictions, which were made in 2010 when the economy was on shakier ground. During the 2005 SPLOST the county didn’t bring in enough money to fund all the projects on its list, he said.
“We’re going very quickly with the new program, which is great,” Volckmann said. “We have the cash on hand now, so all projects are moving as quickly as possible.”
The Legislature enacted the SPLOST law in 1985 as a way for counties to fund capital projects. The tax generally runs for five or six years and is collected on items subject to state sales taxes within the county, including food. School systems may call for a separate SPLOST referendum.
Almost all the counties in the metro area — and most in the state — have a SPLOST, according to the Georgia Department of Revenue. But not all are enjoying the same strong returns.
Clint Mueller, the legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said he’s heard from smaller and midsize counties that collections remain sluggish. This could be the result of various sales tax exemptions passed by the Legislature in recent years, he said.
“You would assume that if the economy is growing that the sales tax revenue would be growing in line with the economy, but that’s not happening everywhere,” Mueller said. “Cobb is generating more than anticipated, so either their original revenue estimates were very low, or their local economy is outperforming other areas of the state.”