Preliminary SPLOST project list set; met with some opposition

SHEILA MATHEWS :::

Voters now have their first glimpse of the first potential project list for the upcoming 2014 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum that local officials have approved for the Nov. 4 General Primary ballot.

Discussed at the Dec. 16 Spalding County Board of Commissioners meeting, the county’s preliminary list includes debt service reduction, 911 Center Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), soccer field lighting, 60 miles of road resurfacing, a “little money” for bridges and the remainder designated for the paving of dirt roads, said County Manager William Wilson, who added that it is his understanding the city of Griffin is prepared to move forward with its project list, as are the cities of Orchard Hill and Sunnyside.

County officials will move forward with scheduling meetings with officials of all three municipalities to discuss each city’s SPLOST project lists. From this process, officials will comprise the final project list to be presented to Spalding County voters.

Wilson’s initial recommendation was that commissioners approve the SPLOST referendum to be placed on the May primary ballot, but that was met with opposition.

“I’m just not comfortable with that. I think we’re rushing it. I haven’t seen a list of the projects that you guys are recommending,” Flowers-Taylor said.

She then cited the most recent regional Transportation SPLOST, which was soundly defeated by Spalding voters.

“I know that lots of people didn’t vote for it because they had a gazillion different pieces of information, most of which was incorrect, and basically they felt like it was crammed down their throats,” Flowers-Taylor said. “I think educating people, getting people’s input about what they’d like to see happen, is very important, and I don’t believe that can happen for us in five months.”

She also expressed concern about the proposal to use SPLOST funds to reduce the county’s debt.

“Part of the suggestion I see is that we try to pay off some of our debt – the county’s debt – you know, buildings that we have and stuff like that. From where we’re sitting up here, that’s fine,” she said. “But if I were sitting at home sitting in my living room, I’d be saying, like, so y’all couldn’t do what you’re supposed to do with the budget, so now you want me to vote for a SPLOST so you can pay the bills off, but you don’t want to give me anything to enrich my life.”
Flowers-Taylor said she does not necessarily oppose such a use for SPLOST revenue, but believes voters may not be supportive.

Commissioner Raymond Ray responded by explaining the purpose of the debt reduction would be to reduce overhead costs such as debt related to county-owned property.

“Improving the county’s cash flow would mean that we would be able to turn back some of the money we had to increase in this year’s taxes. That was one of the primary objectives. So, we’re cleaning up something that we need to clean up, and that’s cash flow. It makes it easier for the county – it comes back as a reward for our citizens to say thank you, being number one – and then we move their projects, and we talked about all kinds of projects. Roads, Public Works, Parks and Rec, you name it, we pretty much covered it,” Ray said. “But then it came back down to what was needed, what the priority was and that’s where the final list came up. We’ve identified by project; we’ve identified pretty much by cost. That way we’ve got it all ironed out. Don’t think we’re trying to push anything. I think now it’s just a question of educating the public, informing the public… I think we just need to look at the overall list. And you weren’t available last week – you were out of town – so I don’t want to shoot it down before we even have a chance to talk about it.”

Flowers-Taylor countered by stating she was unaware of why certain individuals had already gathered to compose a county project list.

Wilson explained that historically, the Commissioner chairman – now Flowers-Taylor – has designated two or more commissioners for a subcommittee to work on the SPLOST. Flowers-Taylor said she did not oppose that plan, but wanted representatives of Orchard Hill and Sunnyside as members of the subcommittee, which would give the cities an opportunity to promote their respective projects.

Subsequently Ray and Gardner were appointed to this subcommittee.

“I’m having a lapse on that. I don’t know if anybody else is, but I am,” Flowers-Taylor said.

She told her fellow commissioners to do what they wanted to do, but maintained her opposition to the proposed SPLOST projects, stating her belief that it would be difficult to garner voter support.

“I can’t see that, so yeah, we’re going to need some real discussion about that because I don’t see that flying one bit,” she said. “I’m going to be frank with you. If we think for one second that we’re going to get people to spend another penny or another six years because we’re going to pave some roads and pay off some bills, I don’t know where y’all are shopping, but y’all better go back and look because that ain’t going to work.” Ω

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