SPECIAL REPORT: Tracking down sales tax revenue in Columbia County (Part 2)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) - It's an ongoing problem that Columbia County leaders say has been going on for years.

"We've seen a lot of retail over the past several years, but there hasn't really been a spike in that sales tax. And it leaves us scratching our heads as to why we aren't getting those high sales tax numbers if we're having a growth in industry and business."

Administrator Scott Johnson tells me, there's no transparency between local and state government when it comes to sales tax revenue

"In my mind, if the government is able to look at it, at the state level, certainly the local government ought to be able to look at it too, we're the closest government to the people," says Johnson.

In an effort to gain more transparency, Johnson and County Commissioners took these concerns to representative Jodi Lott.

"I know representative Lott dropped a bill last year that would allow some transparency regarding sales tax," says Johnson. "That bill did not pass last year. It didn't pass the Senate, it did pass the House. But is being reconsidered this year."

I went to the state capital to speak with Representative Lott about her push this year to get House Bill 181 passed and into the hands of Governor Nathan Deal.

"Our county administrator has been on this for years, trying to get something done about this," says Lott.

She says right now, local government has no way of knowing if the sales tax distribution is appropriate for their county and no way of finding out if their businesses are filing to their county. The department of revenue, by code, strictly prohibits sharing any information regarding sales tax.

"So, what this bill does, it does not allow them to give any financial information but what it does allow them to do is provide the names of the businesses that are active filers in your county for the designated period you've requested," says Lott.

While the bill failed last year, Lott says she's bringing in extra forces to work to get HB 181 on Governor Deal's desk this year.

"This year, we brought Senator Lee Anderson into the picture," says Lott. "Because it gets very busy here and there are forty days of the Georgia General Assembly in action, we needed to ensure that it will come out. Last year it got through to the senate and then it stalled."

Lott says now, this gives the bill two chances to pass and allow local leaders to have some insight into county spending.

"This is what government is about and how it's supposed to work. They do an amazing job for Columbia County. when they need something at the state level, I'm so glad that they feel they can reach out."

We checked and Representative Lott says no action has been taken with the bill, yet.

Count on NewsChannel 6 to keep you updated on this developing story.


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