Elections

Bibb voters pass the penny, approve $280 million tax

Macon-Bibb County hosted a groundbreaking in July for a $7.6 million recreation center in south Bibb. The second phase of the project is part of a special purpose local option sales tax referendum Macon-Bibb voters approved a new $280 million SPLOST on Tuesday.
Macon-Bibb County hosted a groundbreaking in July for a $7.6 million recreation center in south Bibb. The second phase of the project is part of a special purpose local option sales tax referendum Macon-Bibb voters approved a new $280 million SPLOST on Tuesday. Special to The Telegraph

Macon-Bibb County voters gave a $280 million sales tax proposal the thumbs up Tuesday night.

The next special purpose local option sales tax will pay for numerous projects, ranging from recreation to storm-water repairs. It will go into effect in April 2018.

The referendum passed 34,748 votes to 22,155 votes, or 61 percent to 39 percent, according to unofficial election results.

Elections officials were still counting about 4,000 absentee ballots late Tuesday night.

Officials have spent the last several months campaigning for the tax they said is instrumental in the county’s financial future.

Mayor Robert Reichert said he was pleased with the outcome.

“I think this sets a wonderful tone for the next four years,” he said Tuesday night.

The current $190 million SPLOST, approved by voters in 2011, ends on March 30, 2018. There will be a couple major differences between the current and future penny-on-the-dollar sales tax.

Macon-Bibb County officials have created a list of projects but not assigned a specific dollar amount, thus providing more leeway on how much money is spent on them. The tax would also be collected until the full amount comes in. The current collections have a six-year window.

“The SPLOST will benefit all the citizens of Macon-Bibb County in ways the general fund just cannot provide,” Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said. “It’s really a gift of major projects we have voted to support.”

Macon-Bibb County officials will have a retreat in January to discuss the SPLOST and how to manage a projected shortfall in collections for this round.

The new SPLOST will cover courthouse renovations — to the tune of an estimated $40 million — that were mandated for completion by a judge.

A study also estimates tens of millions of dollars in repairs needed for an outdated storm-water system across the county.

The 2018 SPLOST will cover upgrades to facilities such as the Macon Coliseum, Shurling Library, Tubman Museum and the City Auditorium.

The $280 million SPLOST assigns money into 10 categories, ranging from roads and bridges to blight to recreation and cultural facilities.

▪ Landfill: $20 million

▪ Courthouse repairs and upgrades: $40 million

▪ Blight remediation: $12 million

▪ Economic development: $29 million

▪ Storm water: $25 million

▪ Debt retirement: $13.5 million

▪ Roads/bridges/transportation: $35 million

▪ Public safety: $25 million

▪ Recreation: $43.5 million

▪ Cultural/public use facilities: $37 million

The SPLOST had received some opposition from a vocal group of seniors upset about the progress of a new senior citizens center. But while more than 20,000 voters opposed continuing the tax, officials spoke about the importance of having the public involved early on in the process of creating a new referendum.

Macon-Bibb County held a series of community meetings in May and June to gather public input. The Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which helped create the SPLOST guidelines for the state, helped facilitate Macon-Bibb officials creation of referendum.

The current SPLOST has been used to pay for upgrades to about a dozen recreation and park facilities, including a new south Bibb center. The revenue has also paid for a new juvenile justice center and animal shelter and fire stations.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph

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