By Tia Lynn Ivey
Madison City Councilman Joe DiLetto lashed out at the Morgan County Citizen last week, blaming the newspaper for misinforming its readers, which led to a citizen writing a Letter to the Editor containing, according to DiLetto, factual errors.
“I read a letter to the editor yesterday. It is a well-written letter and it’s full of good opinion, most of which I have no issue with because it states that it’s opinion… Everybody is welcome to their own opinion but in one area it gets into fact, and I am going to name the newspaper for that…It says, ‘Sales and Use Tax revenues is down 20 percent as reported in the Sept 28 Morgan County Citizen. So tourist spending is actually down, not up, as stated in last week’s letter to the editor.’ The facts, the real facts, on the use and sales tax is that they are up considerably…I guess the newspaper didn’t differentiate this, so I am going to defend the letter writer and chastise the newspaper.”
DiLetto contended that the Morgan County Citizen failed to mention how sale taxes on fuel and vehicle purchases have been restructured in recent years, which impacts the amount of sales tax revenue local municipalities collect.
In 2013, The State of Georgia exchanged a 7 percent sales tax on vehicle purchases for a one-time TAVT, (title ad valorem tax) that is based on the value of the vehicle. Revenues from TAVT are still distributed to local governments, but no longer through the Special Project Local Option Sales Tax.
In 2015, House Bill 170 passed, rerouting fuel taxes, which previously comprised a large chunk of local governments’ sale tax revenue, and directed those funds back to the state to be used for transportation improvement projects.
“In defense of this letter writer, she got her facts from a newspaper that didn’t tell the whole story, and it’s something we see in newspapers, on the radio and on TVs everyday, but I sure do get tired of it,” said DiLetto.
However, The Morgan County Citizen’s Sept 28 article was specifically addressing declining SPLOST revenues, not all sales and use tax revenues that generate money for the county or the local municipalities.
The article, which clearly defined its limited focus on one source of sales tax revenue, SPLOST, correctly reported on public announcements from Morgan County government and the City of Madison, in which both entities confirmed a 15-20 percent drop from originally anticipated SPLOST revenue projections.
The Morgan County Citizen also did not claim that tourism spending was down or drew any connection between tourism spending and the drop in SPLOST revenues.
The sole focus of the article examined how capital projects solely funded through SPLOST, not other incoming revenue from other sales taxes, would have to be delayed or scaled back as county and city leaders publicly discussed those options.
The Morgan County Citizen also differentiated the state-driven revenue changes in sales taxes on fuel and vehicle purchases throughout 2013-2015, as those changes came into effect.
The Morgan County Citizen has also extensively reported on Madison’s tourism industry growth in recent years.
In numerous articles the paper has cited Ellen Sims, director of the Madison-Morgan Conventions and Visitors Bureau (CVB), who found that as of 2016, the tourism economic impact in Morgan County increased 37 percent from $35.8 million to $49.25 million in just six years.