2006, 2012 Houston County SPLOST collections lower than expected

chwright@macon.comJanuary 20, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Lower-than-expected sales tax proceeds won’t hamper Houston County capital projects, officials say.

Collections from the 2006 special purpose local option sales tax fell about $2.7 million short of projections, and those from the 2012 sales tax initiative are already running lower than expected.

Still, the governments seem prepared to deal with the shortfall.

“We’re going to be able to do all of the projects,” Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said.

The 2006 SPLOST, which ended in September, had been projected to generate $130 million. But the sales tax brought in about $127.3 million, according to the Georgia Department of Revenue database.

But that’s OK, Stalnaker said.

“We had some of the projects -- almost all of them -- that have come under cost projections,” he said. “In all probability, there’s going to be money left over when we finish all the projects.”

The chairman said the projects on the 2006 list will be completed before any surplus is spent on additional capital improvements within the originally approved categories.

Houston County is now on its fourth consecutive SPLOST, having used the revenue mostly on road projects to accommodate an ever-growing population. The sales tax rate is 7 cents on the dollar.

Major road projects in the 2006 SPLOST list included Moody Road, Corder Road, Lake Joy Road and an extension of Margie Drive. Most of them have been completed, and the rest are under construction.

Centerville had $1.5 million with no specific projects identified, but it collected about $30,000 less. Mayor John Harley said his projects have all been completed under budget.

“At the time we did the list (and projections), costs were rising,” Harley said. “By the time the money came in, costs (particularly for materials and construction) started dropping.”

Perry had $5.5 million projected, but it raised about $100,000 less. The biggest project on the list was $1 million for a new fire station.

The fire station is now under construction off Ga. 127 near Langston Road. All told, it is expected to cost about $1.2 million.

Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said the shortage in the SPLOST collections won’t affect that specific project, because the city has already identified funds for the higher-than-earmarked price tag.

“We already knew it was going to run over,” Faircloth said. “So we knew we were going have to find an alternative source to fund it.”

As for other projects, there will be fewer -- or different ones -- completed based on the SPLOST revenue.

The city earmarks most of its allotment broadly during the referendum, identifying few specific projects. The main reason, Faircloth said, is because there’s no way to know the most important city needs six years before the money is available.

“The secondary reason is this right here,” Faircloth said. “If we come up short, we are legally obligated to get the project done whether the funding is there or not.”

Warner Robins, the county’s largest city, was originally slated to receive $15.5 million, but it collected about $300,000 less. The biggest project was $5 million for a law enforcement center.

The center, under construction at Armed Forces Boulevard, is pushing closer to the budget limit as it quickly reaches completion.

Mayor Chuck Shaheen did not return messages for comment Friday.

Stalnaker said the first two months of collections for the 2012 SPLOST have also run short of estimates by 10 to 12 percent.

At a projected $155 million, the latest program is not only expected to be the highest earner in Houston County SPLOST history, but it also has the most diverse list. It’s expected to give the cities more money than ever and spreads the proceeds across several capital improvement categories.

The city of Warner Robins is projected to receive $44.4 million; Perry, $9.8 million; and Centerville, $5.1 million.

It’s not the best-case scenario if the revenues don’t pick up, Stalnaker and the two mayors said, but they’re watching closely and making adjustments early.

“We put out memorandum to all project administrators -- that includes the cities -- be conservative on the 2012 SPLOST” and spend less than the original budgets for now, Stalnaker said.

Harley said his city’s major project, a new police station, is already under budget. And the city will work to have the rest follow suit in anticipation of a continued decline in collections.

Faircloth said his city hasn’t begun any projects from the 2012 SPLOST list. If collections fall short again, then some anticipated projects may have to wait longer. But it’s not as if everything was going to be covered anyhow, he said.

“Our capital projects list, if I remember correctly, has $19 million worth of projects” on it, he said. “We’re not at a shortage for having things to do. We will adjust projects accordingly.”

Faircloth and Stalnaker attributed the decline in sales tax revenue to the national recession. Projections didn’t start separating from reality until 2010, Stalnaker said.

Stalnaker said there has been some growth month to month, just not as much as expected.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” he said. “Most counties are not having growth. They’re having declines. We’re holding on, and we’re still in a positive trend instead of a negative trend, which is positive outcome.”

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

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