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County considers SPLOST priorities


By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  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 leadership.

  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 in.

  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 it.”

  He plans to keep the matter on the front burner so it can be resolved in the next few weeks if possible.

  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.”



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