SPLOST list: No evidence any project is needed

Dennis Chase's picture

Early in July, Fayette County put a project list out for public comment, titled Core Infrastructure SPLOST 2013. After a review of what was presented, I took a position of opposition based on the lack of project details. Fayette County staff asked me to look at additional information. I did so as well as visiting proposed sites, but I have not changed my mind.

I was able to visit about 20 of the project sites and most raise a simple question: why? If you reviewed the project list, you know generally where it is located, a little about costs, but I doubt if there are many of you who understand what this set of projects propose.

We are being asked to vote for a tax for with very little understanding of what it is for, other than, “If you don’t, holes will open in the roads, so just say yes.”

After reviewing everything available, I am even more opposed to the project list now.

My opposition is not about how the Board of Commissioners are trying to fund projects. Rather it is the lack of evidence of knowing what the money is for.

It has been suggested that I need to be offering solutions. But what they want is solutions on how to raise a lot of money, and not talk about the specifics of projects.

I appreciate the commissioners’ push to fix what they believe are problems, but without a watershed drainage plan to analyze impacts of so much work, it can very well lead to unintended consequences — consequences that we will have to fix later.

Is there really a reason for rushing into this without knowing what impacts may result?

From my visits to project sites I offer the following examples about why I’m concerned:

Example 1:

One of the Category I projects is the Longview Dam. No information is provided on what they intend to do with $1,212,647 estimated for this project.

When I visited the site, I concluded that there are problems with this dam. Mostly because the road is built right on top of the dam and because there were large trees growing the entire length. Large trees, even small trees, indicate that the structure is full of roots endangering the structure.

But here is the problem. One family owns almost everything on both sides of the dam, including the entire lake. I don’t know if the road is owned by the county or the family. However, fixing this structure will be ensuring the property owner will continue to have his own private lake.

And, if the county is legally obligated to do this work, then we need to know a few things. First, obviously, what is the plan to fix the structure? Second, what alternatives were considered? Does this project lay long-term liability on the county? And, is the county on the hook for yearly maintenance?

One possible alternative I would like to see is the cost of an adequately-sized box culvert installed in the dam which would drain the lake. Suppose the cost of this new culvert were to be $600,000. Why then should we be paying 1.2 million at this location?

Taking that a step further, if the property owner demands that the lake be maintained, then it should be their responsibility to contribute the difference between the box culvert and whatever the current project estimate covers.

In addition, if the tax payers agree to do the dam repair, then the property owner will be assessed 50 percent of the yearly maintenance costs. I’m all for saving $600,000, aren’t you? But all of that is missing from the SPLOST list.

Example 2:

One project on the county list will be on Roberts Road, just north of Fayetteville. Currently, water simply flows over the gravel road; no structures of any kind. The county proposes spending $359,642 to fix it.

But with no plan, who knows what the impacts will be. In this case, the drainage is between two junk car lots. Approximately 37 acres of old cars are parked on those lots in varying stages of deterioration.

There are a number of toxic chemicals flowing into Morning Creek, and eventually some of that water goes into the county water system. My guess is they plan a new culvert to allow water to flow under the road. Even though a plan to prevent this pollution should be an important part of the project, I doubt it exists.

Finally, this comes down to assurances from county officials that they know what they are doing. But verbal assurances are not enough for me to support a vote to increase my taxes.

[Dennis Chase, now retired, was a fish and wildlife biologist with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 26 years. Since retiring, he has worked as a consultant for Fayette County on environmental concerns, is a volunteer with the Line Creek Association of Fayette County, and has published numerous newspaper columns.]

NeilSullivan
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H & F Solution

I agree we need a comprehensive operational/ capital cost plan and THEN revenue plan. Basically what do we want/need and then how do we pay for it. I think that a blend of property taxes and, yes, a SPLOST may be the avenue to go.

Given the activity in the county, it may be prudent to include the consumer in the mix provided property taxes are offset or maintained. However, if you have both taxes, it leaves the door open for politicians to raise or misuse funds.

To be clear, I do not think we need to drastically raise the amount we spend nor have I decided to support THIS SPLOST. But I think we need a strategy that it is clear neither the county nor the cities have.

But the question at hand seems to be, at least for some, how do we pay for everything we want or maintain what we have, without me paying more or giving up anything I enjoy.

Take Care.

Citizen Bob
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PTC Observer

Expend just a little energy to visit the home page of the county's web site, where the county has posted a Project Summary, a complete list of projects, maps, project cost estimates,and separate information sheets on many of the projects (the engineering studies aren't cheap, so the county didn't request one for all projects, some of which are simple and obvious).

http://www.fayettecountyga.gov/default.htm

Per the Project Summary, the 180+ projects are also prioritized into categories. While discussing the list with the county, they also recognize that some projects have years of remaining life, and their maintenance will be logically scheduled toward the end of that period.

One financing solution would be to offer voters a SPLOST every year to cover the next year's long-neglected infrastructure needs. I, for one, would prefer not going through the drama every year.

Having a county road means the county also has maintenance obligations, even if it's on a right of way through someone's property, and I'm concerned what remedy the state may impose on us if we do nothing.

Chase is correct in expecting complete engineering studies on expensive projects, so I'm waiting for the consulting engineering company to complete the ones it's been hired to provide.

Stay engaged.

PTC Observer
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Mr. Ross

Thanks, I'll look and see if this answers my specific questions but I doubt that it will.

What I am looking for is who is benefiting from these improvements. I understand the county is attempting to address Federal mandates. However, it's these mandates forced on us from an out of control Federal bureaucracy that we should question. The fact that the Congress passes an Act then let's a politically motivated bureaucracy free to "spread the wealth" is the problem. Generally property improvements are paid for by the property holder but that's not how these government driven things work. If the government improves drainage and thereby improves a private piece of land using taxpayer money, then the likelihood of corruption exists. After all money in the hands of government is like matches in the hands of an arsonist.

If I am going to expend energy on any process related to government mandates, it would be answering these two questions. Who's getting the benefit at the taxpayers expense? How are they tied to politicians at any level of government? I'll just bet there's a correlation there somewhere.

Based on what I have seen from you in the past, your talents would be best used ferreting out the answers to these questions than beating the drum for passage of a tax that will further impoverish your fellow citizens.

However, perhaps I am wrong about you. I will stay engaged you can count on that Mr. Ross. Thanks for your past efforts on the behalf of your fellow citizens.

Citizen Bob
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PTC...

Some of the project write-ups may not pass GA Tech engineering study standards, and many probably don't have to (and we can save that tab for the projects themselves).

Per the photos and descriptions, the need for some of the projects and their beneficiaries (those neighborhoods) appears obvious to my amateur eye. Let's face it, many of these projects are just rusted out drains!

Skeptical citizens best serve by identifying those projects that don't have an obvious benefit, and asking for further explanation. H&F's questions about materials costs and some of Mr. Chase's questions are useful public feedback that alert county government that we want more proof before shelling out for a SPLOST. Conspiracy theorists seldom fulfill such a productive role.

The next Board of Commissioners meeting is Thursday, Aug 15, see you there?

PTC Observer
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Mr. Ross - I suppose

we will just need to disagree, it is not a conspiracy theory to assert that shelling out vast sums of money to people who did not earn it, leads to corruption. There is no doubt in my mind that this corruption exists within our cities, county, state and federal government. To believe otherwise is at best naive.

This position is bolstered by the natural law that all people act in their own self interest and theft by power of government is a tool to serve unscrupulous self interests. A wink and a nod can cost citizens millions.

I am no detective Mr. Ross and public information doesn't prove anything, it is the information that is hidden from the public eye that counts. For example, the intentional destruction of public hard drives makes it difficult to know the extent of corruption. You have proven to be a capable analyst on such things as the Defined Benefit Plan, Mr. Horgan's misdeeds and district voting. Put you time and efforts into something that can actually have an impact and in the end save all of us a lot of money. Supporting a SPLOST to give money to government for storm water management, is certainly not a way to help your fellow citizens.

Now, if you want to support a very restricted SPLOST on law enforcement to protect all of the citizens of this county, you can count me in. I cannot and will not support SPLOST proposals that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Certainly not an open ended proposal for storm water management thrust upon us by a Federal bureaucracy.

Set your priorities correctly and you can have a major positive impact, give up supporting the out of control bureaucracy Mr. Ross.

Respectfully,

PTC O

Husband and Fat...
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Costs

I won't question you on camera angles and proper lighting. I will question anyone when they utilize interns to quickly put a unit cost budget like that together. That budget might pass for an estimating class at Southern Polytech, but it wouldn't pass muster with any private enterprise.

Just ask your new buddies at Group VI if they would present this type of budget to an investor.

Those costs are extremely inflated to allow everyone to look good when the pricing comes in lower than the estimate. This will allow for pet projects to be added later.

Citizen Bob
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That's the benefit of a

That's the benefit of a government putting the info out five months before the vote, and citizens who take the time to read it... and to raise insightful questions!

Pelosi: take note

Husband and Fat...
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Another solution

The photos on the county website demonstrate a lot of things.

1. Poor engineering
2. Lack of inspections
3. Lack of maintenance
4. All of the above

Is it current commissions fault. No.

What can they do moving forward?

1. Clean house. Permitting, inspections, roads, stormwater, the whole shebang. Clean house of inspectors who approve shoddy work because the contractors a friend. Get rid of plan reviewers who approved the developments that used crappy materials.

2. Slow growth. Evaluate long term issues. Hire enough inspectors to actually inspect the jobs instead of signing off from their car because they have to make so many site visits in a day.

3. Stand up to developers and study impact fees. I don't care how much money is speculated to come in from new construction, we keep giving and altering and the developers keep taking. The county has to stop being so needy, that they give the house away.

4. One solution. Come up with a realistic tax plan and tax accordingly. This should have been taxed for years now. Have Rapson come up with a tax plan and initiate. Let commission grow a pair and actually resolve it once and for all.

AFTER ALL, IT AINT THIER FAULT. THEY ARE JUST THE MESSENGER.

Davids mom
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Thank you Citizen Bob

Will keep abreast of engineer's report. This gives a citizen an idea of how various projects will affect their property and the regions that are important to them.

Husband and Fat...
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You are a smart guy Bob

I have been studying the 67 page report when I have time.

First off, if someone wanted to really take a look at every location, it would take them forever based on the maps provided.

Budgets are out of line on the high side.
Now I also understand this is a budget so there is a lot of cover your butt numbers, but lets be real. Paying $9.90 per sy for sod is a bit much. Paying $698.50 per cy of concrete is extremely high. Would you pay $286 per ton for mulch? Curb and gutters budgeted at $27.50 is almost 3 times the actual cost. You have to admit, these numbers were thrown together pretty quick in a cya fashion

Right of Way / Permit Costs
Why are we paying for right of way and Environmental Permit fees. Both budget line items are questionable and extreme. Why are there so much costs for utility relocations.

Last and Certainly not least
If the material was installed correctly the first time and inspected by competent folks, we wouldn't be in this mess. Perhaps your buddy's on commission, need to first get rid of anyone who reviewed and approved any of these current items on the list. If you have standing water, its because the pipe was laid flat, not on a slope as designed. If the top of the pipe is crushed, its because the bottoms and sides were not properly compacted. Its up to the county engineers and inspectors to see that the contractors installing these items do it correctly. It seems that everyone failed to do their part.

AtHomeGym
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H&F & Corrugated Steel Pipe Lifespan

You are mostly correct. If a Corrosion Engineer had been used he could have advised on lining and coating. Depending on the environment in which placed, CSP can last up to 60 yrs. Not done right to begin with and basically ignored thereafter, time to pay up for poor planning & inept maintenance. But we also should not go overboard, like Dennis Chase suggests.

Husband and Fat...
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AHM

So, lets just say that the county moves ahead with 35% of the listed items at this time. Since the costs appear to have been put together quickly in a CYA fashion with all variables taken into account, then do we really need a splost pushed down our throat? My take is no.

Have the boys start asking questions and make the division leaders work for their pay. These guys like it when they get to play with splost money compared to actually working within a tax budget.

If any of these leaders are comparable to our water leader, then I think when commission knows the right questions to ask, we will all find the truth in leadership and if these projects are truly needed at this time.

Steve Brown
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Disappointing

Dennis has been included in the process since I took office at the county. He has had unfettered access to county staff.

The blanket statements are disappointing.

We have millions of dollars in costs in the dams alone. The state is mandating this action. Even if we breach the dams, the costs are significant. We cannot not do anything.

We told Dennis and the newspaper editors that we were still awaiting the engineering on the dams and we would report it once we received and reviewed it. That should be coming any day.

My board did not build the roads with the right of way connecting to the dams; we are merely cleaning up the problems. And we have no funding to do it. The same can be said for the other projects.

If Dennis is saying do nothing, he is making the wrong choice. We are currently funding faltering or collapsed culverts by stealing the funds from other line items on an as-failing basis - that is no way to operate.

We had one culverts completely collapse the day before one of our stormwater town hall meetings (the photo was on the front page of one of the local newspapers). It was a one-way into the subdivision situation. Waiting for them to fall with no funding is a really bad idea.

AtHomeGym
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Chairman Brown & "MY Board"

It's not "YOUR" Board--it's THE Board, so pls knock off the possessive 'MY'--it says loads about your thought process & ego.

johenry
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Oh please AtHomeGym!

Talking about petty comments!!!

Using the term "my" is not a sin and not a sign of ego. When my grandchild comes over and says grandma guess what we did at my school I don't make accusations of bad thoughts and ego!!!

When I talk about MY Falcons I'm showing pride not ego!!!

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Chairman

I don't think Mr. Chase is saying don't do it. I think he is saying your board needs to do a little more homework before calling for the splost.

When you go for your annual medical checkup and the Dr. tells you that you need open heart surgery, do you run to the hospital and jump on the OR table. No. You get a second and possibly a third opinion.

There could be many ways to solve the problems. Your board seems to be taking the advise of the division manager and one engineering firm. How about asking more questions, like Dennis is asking. How about listing the family names that seem to be benefitting from these upgrades.

The board is depending on a managers report. If the water department is a reflection of this type of leadership, it would be best that you question everything on their report.

PTC Observer
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Chariman Brown - Information

Where's the list of projects that this tax will "support"?

Who's property is impacted in a positive way if these projects are brought to completion? Please list the names of the property owners.

Please publish a readable map(s) so we may see adjacent lands/property with each project identified on the list of projects.

Then, perhaps, we will have the information we need to know if we could support such a tax.

Until I have the above, I will not vote for this proposition.

Husband and Fat...
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Thanks Mr. Chase

Seems to me our esteemed leaders just want to spend our money just like the previous gang. They want so badly to please everyone and be well liked.

I don't expect commission to have all the answers. We can't expect a video guy to understand civil engineering. Likewise, I would not be the go to guy to inquire about astrology.

We do however expect our leaders to ask a lot of questions. I believe one esteemed leader had a spreadsheet of questions he promised to use prior to each vote. Instead of posing questions to the department leaders, they rely on whatever Mr. Parrot or Mr. Roads, or Mr. Storm sewer says. We all see how well that is working out with our water.

I'm sure there are many more county "crisis" that you have not had time yet to address. I hope you continue to voice your opinion. As we have already seen, commission will most likely go into attack mode since last week they added the new fire station costs for Pinewood to the splost. It's a sure bet that they will state that if the splost fails (as it should), county taxes will increase dramatically next year, since they really didn't really balance the budget this year.

hutch866
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Steve Brown

Rebuttal?

Steve Brown
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Hutch 866

See the above.

hutch866
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Brown

Yeah, didn't think so.

NUK_1
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Nice work Dennis Chase

I've not been your biggest fan over the years, but I respect your opinion as well as how much time and research you put into forming your views. I 100% agree with you here and your reasoning as to why. Thanks for your service to the community.

Davids mom
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Thank you

I too wonder why proposed plans are not available. Some blame leadership, but if the leaders don't anticipate our questions - it's usually because not enough of us ask.

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