Newnan-Coweta Chamber remaining neutral on TSPLOST vote
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
After much discussion, research and debate, the board of directors of the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce has decided the chamber’s position on the upcoming transportation sales tax referendum.
And that position is not to take a position.
The board made the decision at its May meeting, said Dennis McEntire, board chairman.
“We could not be convinced, as a board, that in all cases it would be a positive thing for our membership,” McEntire said. “There were people on the board that were pretty convinced that it would, and there were folks on the board that were convinced that it wouldn’t,” he said.
“We decided instead of taking a position against or for it, that we would be neutral and encourage our membership to make up their own minds,” McEntire said.
Before making that decision, the chamber held focus groups for members to learn about the TSPLOST and give their opinions. The chamber also met with local officials and hosted a meeting of all of the chambers of commerce in the 10 counties that make up the Three Rivers region.
Coweta is part of Three Rivers for the purposes of the regional transportation sales tax. The overall vote in the region determines whether or not the tax will be implemented. Whether or not the tax is approved in a particular county doesn’t matter, only the region-wide total does.
The chamber’s process began in March, when the Newnan-Coweta Chamber received a communication from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, asking the local chamber to support and promote the TSPLOST.
“We brought it to our board,” McEntire said of the Georgia Chamber’s message.
“And our board said ‘hey, wait a minute,’” McEntire said. “There were some that said ‘we think it’s great,’ and some that said ‘we think it is bad,’” McEntire said of TSPLOST.
“We decided at that time that we wouldn’t do anything except to try to educate ourselves and educate our members,” McEntire said.
“Now, all of the education materials that we had were from people that were supportive of the TSPLOST,” he said.
“We used the chamber of commerce info, we used some information from the Georgia Department of Transportation,” he said. “We got county officials to share some of the facts about how they would use the TSPLOST,” McEntire said.
He said that no one presented them with any information from anti-TSPLOST groups, but they didn’t seek any out, either.
“There are no groups that we know of, that we talked to, that had facts put together like the people that were for it,” McEntire said. “We felt pretty good that the information given to us through the state chamber was credible, even though we knew they were in favor of it,” he said.
The official statement was approved unanimously by the 23-member board, McEntire said.
“There is considerable division among citizens and among chamber members over the state’s request of local and regional voters to approve a new, 10 year sales tax, particularly during the current economic climate,” according to the Newnan-Coweta Chamber board’s statement. “Further, there is considerable disagreement, and confusion, over the regional nature of the tax referendum, the distribution of revenues, the method of project funding and that tax’s potential impact on local businesses and families,” the chamber board wrote.
However, “the chamber board believes that the Coweta projects identified for funding” in the Three Rivers TSPLOST project list are “worthy and essential transportation projects. These projects are necessary, in the long run, for Coweta to manage its citizens’ current transportation needs and for continued economic development and job creation within the county,” the board members wrote. “The chamber consistently found agreement on the need for these transportation projects in its discussion with other state and local leaders and among local citizens with a wide range of views on the TSPLOST.”
The statement concludes with: “Whatever the outcome of this year’s regional vote, the chamber of commerce also urges state and local officials, and local business and citizens, to work together afterwards to develop a more coherent, manageable and pro-growth transportation plan for our state and region. We believe that is crucial for our community’s quality of life, business sustainability, and future economic development.”
“As a chamber, we feel like it is critical that we keep up with our transportation needs in our county, and there are some projects that have got to be done if we want to stay in our competitive position,” of being a desirable location for business and industry, especially healthcare and manufacturing, McEntire said.
“If the TSPLOST passes in the region, then we’ll have a clear picture of how we’re going to come up with the money,” McEntire said. “If it fails, then, as a community, we’ve still got to decide how we’re going to fund our projects,” McEntire said.
The chamber’s Early Bird Forum June 26 will focus on transportation issues, McEntire said, and Coweta County Administrator Theron Gay will give a presentation on the county’s 20-year comprehensive transportation plan, which will soon be updated.
“Let’s make sure everybody understands what is in that plan,” McEntire said.
McEntire said that he, personally, doesn’t think the TSPLOST will be approved.
“So if it doesn’t, what do we do?” McEntire asked. “If we think we’re better off by having improved transportation, then to improve transportation, we’ve got to spend dollars,” he said.
“And where do these dollars come from?”