SPLOST vote to be delayed to next March?

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Chairman Oddo says wait and see; staff prefers early 2017 special election to “compressed” Nov. vote; uncertain if arts center will be included on ballot
 
The process of placing the proposed new special-purpose local option sales tax on the ballot is going to take a bit longer than previously thought.
 
That’s the impression given by the Fayette County Board of Commissioners, whose July 28 meeting agenda includes consideration of a possible vote to delay the SPLOST election until March. Less than two weeks ago the board approved expanding the SPLOST from four years to six and approved the plan with the idea of placing it on the November ballot, minus any money for a proposed performing arts center.
 
So what will the commissioners do?
 
“I’d say the best thing is to see what happens Thursday,” said Chairman Charles Oddo.
 
“It was unfortunate that the county dropped the ball on the November election for the SPLOST,” Commissioner Steve Brown said. “As for the art center in a March referendum, there are a multitude of questions related to the venue that are unanswered. Many of the questions are quite serious and necessary.”
 
“My guess is that our vote to exclude the PAC will remain the same given we voted to exclude it originally and it’s being advertised as old business. It is my understanding we are voting to establish the actual date given a technicality,” Commissioner Charles Rousseau said.
 
“It would be unlikely that [the PAC] could be put on the list at this point,” Commissioner Randy Ognio stated Monday. “There would have to be more information submitted to us and the cities. The municipalities would have to vote to include it. The timeline does not look promising for that to happen.”
 
“Having the SPLOST on a November cycle creates a time-frame so compressed that there are concerns that adequate notices have not been done,” according to a county staff report. “Delaying the SPLOST election and calling for a Special Called Election creates a better opportunity to educate our residents of these critical projects and to further flesh out project lists to our residents.”
 
County Manager Steve Rapson said Monday that all of the deadlines could probably have been met for a November referendum but there was enough uncertainty that they didn’t want to put it in jeopardy, especially with such things as written notifications and other specifics that are required under state law.
 
“We didn’t want there to be any technicalities filed [in court] that would hold it up,” said Rapson. “I don’t think anyone would argue that there haven’t been adequate discussions. We’ve all been working together [county and cities] from day one. We just want the extra time to remove any sense of improprieties or that we are not following the letter of the law.”
 
County officials said the mayors of Brooks, Fayetteville, Peachtree City, Tyrone and Woolsey support this change, and each municipality has agreed to pay a prorated share of the $60,000 expected cost of a March special election, should that be the decision.
 
The timeline is indeed tight under the plan approved at the last meeting. A list of projects was to be presented to the county’s Transportation Committee next week at its regular meeting to begin the process of deciding which transportation needs would be addressed by the estimated $19.5 million in added revenue from two additional years of SPLOST collections. County officials hope that money, when combined with possible state and federal transportation money, could be leveraged into as much as $97 million.
 
The projects emerging from the Transportation Committee meeting would then be presented to the Board of Commissioners for approval at its Aug. 11 regular meeting. Then a joint meeting with the municipalities, probably Aug. 17, would move the new plan forward in anticipation of a final vote Sept. 22 by the commissioners to set the referendum.
 
A joint meeting with the municipalities is necessary because changing the SPLOST from four years to six requires a new intergovernmental agreement, which would utilize 2010 population numbers as the basis for determining how the money is distributed among the various municipalities. That formula would not change should the referendum be delayed until March.
 
Also of note during the July 14 discussion and vote was the decision to omit the proposed performing arts center from this SPLOST. The $3,555,559 proposed for that project was put into the transportation portion of the county’s plan, leaving intact the funding for the proposed Woolsey community center.
 
Expected county funding from the original four-year SPLOST plan totaled $44,903,177 to be divided among stormwater projects, an E911 radio system, a fire station and a pumper. The Woolsey community center project would receive $223,000 from the county’s portion. That facility, to include a town hall and community museum as well as a possible visitor’s center, would be centered around the former Georgia Mercantile Building, a 100-year-old structure on Hwy. 92 that was donated to the town of Woolsey many years ago.
 
Several commissioners noted at the July 14 meeting that the performing arts center was a worthwhile endeavor and could perhaps be revisited at a later date. Right now it appears that even the additional four months from a delayed referendum would not be enough to see the project included on this SPLOST list.