Columbia Co. commissioners call business tax a 'lose-lose'

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2012

EVANS, Ga. -- Columbia County commissioners are calling it a lose-lose situation as they plan to approve a new excise tax on energy for local industries.

State lawmakers granted the businesses a 6 percent sales tax credit on energy, but the county is says 2 percent of that is theirs and should stay.

Kaye Gravley loves spending time at the park.

"It's wonderful. I would hate to see them not be able to continue what they're doing," Gravley said.

Starting Jan. 1, county commissioners will be facing a hole after state lawmakers approved an energy tax credit for industries.

"They gave away 4 percent from the state but then they gave away 2 percent from each county," explained Commission Chairman Ron Cross. "They gave away money that was not theirs, and it puts us in a real real difficult situation in that we can't win either way with our decision."

Each county will decide whether or not to give up the 2 percent or reinstate the tax.

"If we let it stand like it is and accept the exception, we're going against the wishes of the taxpayers that voted in the SPLOST program and we're taking away from our operating budget," Cross said.

One percent, or about $125,000, would have to be made up out of the budget. Another $125,000 would be taken out of the SPLOST projects.

"There would just be some projects that we wouldn't get to finish," Cross said.

Gravley says that's unacceptable.

"I personally think that would be a disservice to the citizens of the county," she said.

The Chamber of Commerce is supporting those industries and opposing the tax.

"A lot of our decisions today are driven by making sure we stay competitive," said Mike Hogan, factory manager at John Deere.

Some industries encourage commissioners to think of their future growth.

"Of course, we very much respect their decision, and of course, we know these are challenging times in terms of balancing the budget and running a community," Hogan said. "We just wanted to make sure that we gave the commission our point of view and information."

"I sympathize with them, but I still hate to see Columbia County lose the money," Gravley said.

Chairman Cross does not think the 2 percent will deter new businesses or expanding businesses.

Right now, commissioners are expected to pass the tax, but they must talk out options with Harlem and Grovetown leaders who also have a decision to make. The tax will likely not be up for a vote until closer to February.

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