Officials present case for new countywide sales tax

Officials present case for new countywide sales tax
Local governments meet to detail what they want the SPLOST money for
 
Last Friday’s joint meeting between the Fayette County Board of Commissioners and elected officials from Brooks, Fayetteville, Peachtree City, Tyrone and Woolsey offered no new information but gave officials an opportunity to make their case one more time for a countywide SPLOST.
 
The gathering was convened mainly because it is required by law, at least 30 days before the official call for referendum. Since the ballot initiative is planned for March 21, time was of the essence for getting this group together.
 
County officials noted that an interactive map on the county website contains every SPLOST project in the cities as well as the unincorporated county. There are also printed copies of the SPLOST project list at various municipal offices and public libraries.
 
As presented again Friday, the county’s portion of the SPLOST is projected at more than $64 million, with the largest portion — 37 percent, or $23.7 million — designated for 238 stormwater projects. Vanessa Birrell, who gave the county presentation, identified stormwater as a problem for the county with infrastructure installed 30-40 years ago now failing and the current stormwater utility fee generating about $600,000 “in a good year.”
 
County officials were reminded that in December of 2015 there was a deluge of 12 inches of rain in 11 days, resulting in the closing of 10 roads and emergency repairs estimated at $3.6 million.
 
Birrell added that county staff recommends terminating the stormwater utility if the SPLOST passes.
 
Twenty transportation projects account for about $19.5 million on the county list divided into five categories: infrastructure preservation and improvements; federal aid corridor improvements; intersection improvements; pedestrian, bicycle and multi-use paths; and detailed planning studies.
 
Also on the list is $18.2 million to replace a public safety radio system that Birrell said it out of date with infrastructure at the end of its life and unable to be repaired. Fayette is also one of the few counties in Georgia not operating with the P25 format, she added.
 
The fire/emergency services share of the SPLOST list, at $2,950,000, includes the proposed relocation of Fire Station #4 as well as the replacement of a fire truck and the beginning phase of a new fire training center.
 
A small portion of the county’s SPLOST share, just over $220,000, is designated for the renovation of a historic building in Woolsey into a town hall, community center and museum.
 
County Manager Steve Rapson reminded the board that the $19 million in transportation money can be leveraged into as much as $57 million from state and federal sources.
 
Each of Fayette’s five cities was represented at the SPLOST meeting by its mayor, city manager or both. Each gave a brief presentation that garnered no comments or questions from the commissioners or the public.
 
Town Manager Kyle Hood said that Tyrone plans to spend a little over a third of its $9.1 million allocation on projects “that won’t be seen from day to day.” Some funds will be used for debt reduction on a loan for roads that have already been paved, and money is also to be used for the acquisition of additional sewer capacity. Parks and recreation improvements along with cart path and sidewalk expansion are on the list, as well as Town Hall renovations and the purchase of some public safety equipment.
 
City Manager Jon Rorie noted that about $45 million is to be allocated for projects in Peachtree City, with about 85 percent going toward infrastructure improvements and maintenance. Instead of listing the various kinds of projects, Rorie used his time to emphasize why he felt the initiative is a good idea, stressing that it protects property values, encourages investment in the community, supports public safety initiatives and improves quality of life. Only four counties out of 159 in Georgia are currently without a SPLOST and Fayette is one of them. “Other municipalities have seen the value of this,” he said.
 
Fayetteville began its process by putting together a citizen advisory committee in early 2016, according to City Manager Ray Gibson. Items on the final project list total $25 million with about $21 million in projected SPLOST revenue. Those projects are mainly in the areas of stormwater, transportation, public safety and parks/recreation, Gibson said.
 
Officials are looking at resurfacing 21 miles of roads in the city, and the current resurfacing money comes from LMIG funds at $135,000 a year. The wastewater treatment plant is another high priority, with about $8 million in maintenance and upgrades needed, according to a consultant.
 
Woolsey Mayor Gary Laggis said the renovation of the historic mercantile building, the town’s lone SPLOST project, will be very meaningful to the entire community. “We think the spirit of reclaiming the oldest part of our county is important,” he said. The facility will serves as a community center as well as a town hall and a museum, meaning groups from the south side of the county will have a more convenient place to meet.
 
Brooks Town Manager Ellen Walls pointed out that most of the SPLOST money in that jurisdiction will be for transportation, with a number of dirt roads that need paving. Part of the SPLOST would also be used as a set-aside fund for the water system that the county manages. With about $1.4 million on projects on its list, Brooks expects to see about half that total in SPLOST revenue.