By Monroe Roark
Now that the next installment
of the county’s special-purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) has
been approved by the voters, the Henry County Board of
Commissioners’ next task is organizing the list and deciding which
projects will be addressed first.
The project list was set
before the measure went on the ballot and by law cannot be changed.
However, the order in which they are completed is up to the county’s
A special called meeting was
convened Dec. 16 and the matter was discussed but no action was
taken. One of the sticking points, perhaps the main one, is the
issue of whether to bond any of the SPLOST money.
It is not uncommon for a
municipality, when entering a SPLOST cycle, to organize a bond
transaction equal to at least the first year’s collections so that
money can be utilized immediately rather than waiting for it to come
The flip side of this action,
of course, is the fact that it involves fees that are incurred
through the bond process itself, since the county is in effect
borrowing money against the future sales tax revenues.
Chairman Tommy Smith said
last week that, because of the various ways the county could
conceivably bond some or all of the projected SPLOST amount, there
could be six different opinions on the six-member board.
“Speaking for myself, I would
not vote for any bonding up front,” said Smith.
To illustrate what he felt
would be the futility of such an action, he pointed out that even if
the county were to build all three of the fire stations on the
SPLOST list in 2014, the facilities could not be staffed and
operated under the county’s general budget as would be required
because the county does not have enough money to do so right now.
To bond the entire projected
six-year SPLOST amount could cost the county $8-10 million in fees,
money which can by itself pay for seven or eight intersection
improvement projects, Smith said. “Six years is a short period of
time,” he added.
District IV Commissioner Reid
Bowman is also against any bond transactions to access SPLOST money
ahead of time. He cited the costs as well as the fact that many
projects on the SPLOST list could not be shovel-ready within the
next several months anyway due to the design process and
right-of-way acquisition, among other factors.
When contacted about this
issue, District II Brian Preston expressed similar sentiments.
“I would prefer to avoid as
much debt as possible,” said Preston. “Currently, I see no need to
bond other than countywide public safety projects.”
Another factor in the bond
debate is that, if a particular district’s share were bonded by
itself, the associated fees would be shared by all five districts.
The actual task of
prioritizing the SPLOST list is not required by law, according to
Smith, but is something he feels is important.
“We are doing this because
the public is going to be looking at it,” said Smith. “Once a
consensus is reached, we’re going to have a public meeting and
televise it, with everything on the big screen so everyone can see
He plans to keep the matter
on the front burner so it can be resolved in the next few weeks if
Previous SPLOST initiatives
have generated some controversy because of questions about projects
getting moved around and not being addressed as they should. Smith
wants to avoid all of that.
“We are going to prioritize all of it,” he
said. “That way, when a commissioner comes up and wants to move
something, the public can scrutinize it and ask about the basis for
that decision. I’m making all of this transparent, and that way the
people know exactly what is going on.”