UPDATE: Houston officials celebrate landslide SPLOST approval

WARNER ROBINS — A “thank you” sign sat behind the commissioners’ bench at the Houston County Annex Building, but it wasn’t for the officials who gathered there to watch poll results for a penny sales tax referendum.

“This is a ‘thank you’ for the voters,” said Houston County Chairman Tommy Stalnaker as Warner Robins Councilman Paul Shealy presented the black and white sign. “They are the real victors of this thing tonight.”

Houston County voters opted Tuesday to continue a six-year special purpose local option sales tax on a ballot that also included the Republican presidential primary.

Unofficial results showed the SPLOST received 10,029 ‘yes’ votes to 4,799 ‘no’ votes. More affirmative than negative votes were cast in every precinct.

“It speaks very loud that people would like to see those dollars used to enhance those areas,” listed as SPLOST projects, Stalnaker said.

Houston County commissioners estimate the continuation of the SPLOST would generate about $155 million that would be used for economic development, public safety, water and sewer improvements, transportation and recreation. The county sales tax will remain at 7 percent.

Officials from Houston County and its three cities gathered Tuesday evening at the Houston County Annex to watch results while enjoying jazz music and refreshments. By 9 p.m., with the results showing a clear victory, most officials had left.

“The real work starts tomorrow,” Stalnaker said. “But at least we’ve got work to do.”

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

In public hearings last fall, officials from the county, Centerville, Perry and Warner Robins laid out their plans for the capital improvement funds expected from the 2012 SPLOST. The 2006 SPLOST ends in September; the now-approved 2012 SPLOST will begin in October.

Notable projects expected to impact residents throughout the county and its cities will be an $8.2 million upgrade to the county’s E911 communications system and a contribution of about $7 million to address encroachment north of Robins Air Force Base. Overall, about $60.3 million would be spent on countywide projects.

Stalnaker said the landslide approval of the SPLOST renewal showed, in part, residents are “ready to do away with that encroachment problem.”

Besides encroachment, he said he looks forward to the E911 Center upgrades and spending in the new SPLOST category, general capital obligations, which includes equipment and building updates that would typically weigh on the governments’ general funds.

Projects in Warner Robins include $4.7 million in renovations to City Hall and the Civic Center, an additional $4.5 million for the Law Enforcement Center currently under construction and $5 million for a recreation complex — a revision of an old plan for a sports complex. Overall, Warner Robins is expected to receive about $44.4 million.

Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen said Tuesday evening that from the city’s projects list, he’s most looking forward to the renovations to City Hall.

“We’ve always ... patched problems,” Shaheen said. “Now, we need to actually redo the roof, redo the ventilation system,” and other needed upgrades.

Centerville’s largest project is a $3 million Law Enforcement Center. Overall, Centerville is expected to receive about $5 million.

Centerville Mayor John Harley said insurance agents visited the current police department just two weeks ago and again questioned the safety of the hodgepodge building that has resulted from three additions.

“Now, we have something to tell them,” he said, smiling wide at the SPLOST voter numbers. “We really need that LEC done.”

Perry did not specify its projects, but the greatest portion — $4.1 million — is dedicated to the water and sewer system. Overall, Perry is expected to receive about $9.8 million.

Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth was unable to attend Tuesday’s poll results event, but Councilman Randall Walker said the mayor and councilmen are all pleased with the victory and the work done to get to the outcome.