Opinion Columns & Blogs

The Houston County SPLOST explained line by line

McAuley Aquatic Center at Georgia Tech
McAuley Aquatic Center at Georgia Tech

This is in reply to Orris Mercer’s letter published March 6 about the upcoming 2018-2024 special purpose local option sales tax issue to be voted on March 21 in Houston County. Let me say at the start that the current SPLOST tax rate will not be increased for the upcoming SPLOST period. This SPLOST will maintain the current SPLOST tax rate level of 7 percent.

There are several reasons why I respectfully disagree with Mercer’s letter; the main one being that this SPLOST vote is not about swimming pools. It is about continuing the bright future of Houston County and its present high quality of life with the same revenue source structure that has brought us to this point over the past 20 years.

It should be noted that since the advent of the SPLOST as a funding mechanism for Houston County, the historical proportion of overall annual Houston County funding has been about $24,000,000 per year from SPLOST funding compared to about $55,000,000 per year in the county’s general fund.

Here is the context for this SPLOST measure, including a partial listing of categories of investments and some major examples — not a comprehensive list — of investments envisioned for the continuation of the Houston County SPLOST. Numbers have been rounded to the nearest $0.1m and will not add up to the projected SPLOST total of $145 million.

Transportation: $38.1 million/26.2 percent. Past SPLOST funds raised have gone toward widening and upgrades of Lake Joy Road, Russell Parkway, Houston Lake Road, Carl Vinson Parkway, Feagin Mill Road, Corder Road, Moody Road, and the intersection of Gunn Road at U.S. Hwy. 41, among other projects.

The upcoming SPLOST plans include, among other projects: Widening of portions of Houston Lake Road (Gray Road to Kings Chapel Road, $3.5 million), Wilson Drive (Houston Lake Road to Collins Road) / Elberta Road (Collins Road to Carl Vinson, $4 million), Old Hawkinsville Road (SR 96 to SR 247) and/or widening of Thompson Mill Road ($6.3 million), Pleasant Hill Road (South section, $5.5 million), and intersection/transportation improvements ($7.1 million).

Public Safety: $29.9 million/20.6 percent. Examples of planned expenditures include replacement of portable communications equipment including radios and data terminals and tablets ($7.2 million), E-911 Center and system improvements ($1.2 million), and vehicles including EMS ambulances ($0.6 million), sheriff’s vehicles and equipment ($5.3 million), police vehicles and equipment ($2.9 million), and fire and rescue trucks and equipment ($1.9 million). Fire Station N0. 8 was paid for by previous SPLOST funding, and its completion has been a major factor in the recently-improved city of Warner Robins fire insurance rating from 3 to 2, which will save everyone who helps pay for fire insurance a significant amount of money into the future.

Recreation: $30.6 million/21.1 percent. Recreation and sports complex planned for North Houston Road in Warner Robins, including football/soccer and baseball/softball fields ($15.0 million), swim complex ($7 million), and other recreation improvements and construction ($6 million).

At present, Houston County does not have swimming facilities which can adequately support its school system’s swimming programs, to include hosting tournaments for competitive swimming events. The recent Houston County swimming tournament had to be held at a facility in Americus because of a lack of adequate Houston County facilities. That circumstance was not constructive for Warner Robins’ and Houston County’s reputation for being a leading quality of life community in this state.

General capital obligations:

$17 million/11.7 percent.

Public buildings: $13.6 million/9.4 percent.

Water and sewer system improvements: $9.2 million/6.4 percent.

Economic Development: $6.6 million/4.5 percent.

The greater Houston County area, home of the seventh largest metropolitan area in Georgia and home to one of only three Air Logistics Centers in the U.S., is also nationally known for the quality and performance of its younger citizens in both boys and girls Little League World Series, Miss America and Miss Teenage America competitions, and perennially nationally-ranked high school football programs. Houston County continues to enjoy growth and success to a great extent because of its high quality of life, directly related to continued investment in the county’s infrastructure.

To jeopardize the continuation of that success because of a misunderstood reason for additional recreation infrastructure estimated to cost less than 5 percent of the total amount of the upcoming SPLOST funding — $7 million out of $145 million — would be very shortsighted and could reasonably call into question Houston County’s commitment to continuing to work for its own well-being and quality of life into the future.

Click here to get a look at Augusta’s Aquatic Center.

Bill Pitts is a Centerville resident.