SPLOST up for Houston, Peach vote Tuesday

chwright@macon.comMarch 4, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- The time has come for Houston and Peach voters to decide whether they want to continue 1 percent sales taxes in their respective counties.

On Tuesday ballots, voters in those counties will face referendums asking whether they are willing to continue paying special purpose local option sales taxes to be used for major capital improvements.

Both Peach and Houston’s proposals are renewals. If voters approve the measures, the sales tax in the respective counties would remain at 7 percent.

Houston project list varied

Houston County commissioners estimate a six-year continuation of the SPLOST would generate about $155 million between October 2012 and September 2018.

With previous two SPLOSTs that were mainly dedicated to road projects, Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker has said he and officials in Centerville, Perry and Warner Robins have purposely diversified the 2012 project list.

About 24 percent, or about $37.5 million, would be dedicated to public safety improvements; about 27 percent, or $42.4 million, would be for transportation improvements; about 19 percent, or $28.9 million, would be used on economic development projects; about 12 percent, or $18.9 million, would be used for general capital obligations; about 12 percent, or $18.6 million, would be used for water and sewer improvements; and about 6 percent, or $8.7 million, would be used for recreation projects.

The projects vary, from about $8.2 million of upgrades to the county’s E-911 center systems to a $550,000 amphitheater in Warner Robins. Officials have highlighted the $7 million that would help alleviate encroachment on the northern side of Robins Air Force Base, which has been an issue for years.

The largest project for the city of Centerville is a $3 million Law Enforcement Center, while the least costly is $637,000 for water and sewer retirement.

Four of the most costly projects in Warner Robins are: $5.5 million for water and sewer system improvements, $5 million for a new recreation complex, $4.7 million for City Hall and Civic Center upgrades, and $4.5 million to add to funds for the new Law Enforcement Center -- which is currently under construction at Watson Boulevard and North First Street. The least costly item on Warner Robins’ list is $50,000 for computer system upgrades.

The county’s most costly item is a $5 million expansion of the jail to add a 40-bed mental health unit. Sheriff Cullen Talton said the state used to take inmates with mental illnesses and drug problems but has done so less and less. He said those inmates cannot be housed with the general population for safety reasons.

The county’s least costly project is $45,000 for equipment for the Investigations Division of the sheriff’s office.

The city of Perry did not budget funds for specific projects. Categorically, the city would spend about $1.8 million on public safety, about $3 million on transportation, about $4.1 million on the water and sewer system, and about $900,000 on recreation.

Peach proposes SPLOST early

Peach county commissioners estimate a SPLOST renewal would generate about $22 million between April 2015 and March 2021. The SPLOST is up for renewal three years early because the county wanted it approved before residents faced a General Assembly-initiated transportation SPLOST, or T-SPLOST.

The new regional T-SPLOST is set for a July vote, and counties throughout the state have moved up SPLOST votes to avoid residents’ fatigue of sales taxes, according to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

The proposed Peach County SPLOST project list includes $2 million for a long-awaited sewer system expansion into the southwest part of the county, $3 million for a Workforce Development Center, $1 million for recreation facility improvements and about $4.4 million for public safety improvements and equipment.

The most costly item of the county’s projects is $3.8 million for improvements to roads, streets, bridges and drainage. The most costly item on Byron’s list is a stormwater utility, at $2.8 million. Fort Valley’s mostly costly item is a streets and stormwater drainage system at $800,000.

The least costly item on the Peach County list is a vehicle, budgeted at $25,000, for county administrative staff’s training and travel between the two county buildings. Walker said one such vehicle is in the county’s current budget.

The money

Peach County Commissioner Melvin Walker has admitted his county’s current SPLOST will fall short of previous estimates. Originally, officials estimated the 2009 SPLOST would generate about $24 million, but officials say collections have been lower than expected. The new estimate is about $21 million.

Walker said the proposed 2015 SPLOST is based on current sales and does not include inflation, as the 2009 SPLOST did.

“Once you tell the taxpayers those projects are going to be done, they still need to be done,” Walker said in January. “And that money has to come from somewhere.”

Stalnaker said estimates for the past two SPLOSTs in Houston County have been accurate. He said the 2001 SPLOST collected a little more than the planned $85 million, and the 2006 SPLOST is on schedule to reach the previously estimated $130 million.

“We schedule projects accordingly,” Stalnaker said. “We have never been able to jump out there and say we’re going to do every project imaginable right now.”

Businesses send sales tax revenue to the state. Then the state sends counties their portions of the sales tax on a monthly basis, and funds are distributed among the local governments. Stalnaker said those monthly payments have about a 60-day lag.

He said it’s part of the reason a few projects in the 2006 SPLOST have not been completed.

All 2001 and 2006 project lists have been started. Stalnaker said unfinished 2001 SPLOST projects are in the preparation phases, which include obtaining right-of-way access and easements.

If residents are interested to know the progress of approved projects, they can visit the Houston County website at www.houstoncountyga.org.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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