Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Oconee County Officials Reveal SPLOST 2015 Wish List At Civic Center Meeting

Some Surprises

Oconee County officials, in a meeting at the Civic Center last night, provided citizens with the first overview of projects under consideration for the proposed 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum planned for the May 20 ballot.

The list contained some surprises.

Added was a new request by Sheriff Scott Berry for $3.4 million for a mobile data terminal, patrol vehicles, remodeling of a building, and a jail surveillance system.

The list included $2 million in funds for heating and air conditioning, renovation and roofing at existing county buildings, although the county has at least $2.6 million in unspent funds for exactly the same purpose from the SPLOST approved by voters for 2004.

Summary Of Requests (Click To Enlarge)

A $25 million request for a new courthouse or judicial facility was attributed entirely to Chief Superior Court Judge David Sweat, though he never made a formal request for the facility.

No money was included for farmland protection, even though the current 2009 SPLOST contains $0.5 million for that purpose and Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis sat through a meeting last Thursday night where citizens said they wanted continuation of that funding.

Citizen Comments

When citizens were given the chance to express their opinions on the list of projects presented to them, the only one that produced opposition was the courthouse.

John Webb, 1320 Bent Creek Road, off Hodges Mill Road, said “I do not support at this time any kind of new courthouse.” He said the county needs to “look very carefully at our existing facility.”

Citizens spoke on behalf of funding for libraries, parks, road improvement, water and sewer infrastructure improvements–and farmland protection. A total of 14 persons expressed an opinion.

The county had refused to release details of the requests under consideration prior to the meeting last night, and citizens were responding to the 70-minute-long PowerPoint presentation by County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko.

(The presentation was added to the county web site this morning.)

Requests Exceed Available Funds

Benko told the roughly 50 people in the audience that, even without money for farmland protection, the Board of Commissioners is looking at requests totaling $97,665,000.

He also said the county was projecting that it would take in $55 million during the six years of the 2015 SPLOST, if voters approve the 1 percent sales tax.

That is a substantial increase over the $40 million projected to be received from the current SPLOST, which now is expected to bring in only about $35 million.

Allocation Of Funds
(Click To Enlarge)

The county has to share that $55 million with the four cities in the county, meaning that the BOC will have only about $47.3 million to allocate.

That amount is reduced further because the county assumes it will take in only 80 percent of the projected revenue and allocates funds according.

Citizen Requests

Benko acknowledged that he was aware of citizen interest in funding for farmland protection, for historical preservation and for additional sidewalks.

But he said he didn’t have anything formal by way of a request, so he didn’t include these projects in the tally of $97.7 in requests.

County Finance Director Wes Geddings had released to me the official requests for projects submitted by county department heads and elected officials that were received by the Dec. 1 deadline, and that list did not include the $3.4 million from the sheriff or the $25 million for the courthouse.

Judge Sweat had been joined by Sheriff Berry in making the case for the new courthouse, but discussion of security problems with the existing facility have been frequent in the past.

Benko, as the video clip below shows, attributed the request to Judge Sweat last night.

Summary of Requests

The Board of Commissioners is being asked to include nearly $5 million for Oconee Fire Rescue, $12 million for the Public Works Department, which is responsible for roads, and more than $13 million for the Utility Department.

The request list includes $5.5 million for libraries and $4.7 million for the county Industrial Development Authority.

The Parks and Recreation Department is seeking $5.5 million for a variety of projects, mostly focused on Oconee Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.

The Parks and Recreation request does not include $4.6 million to continue paying service on the bond used to purchase and develop Veterans Park.

That debt payment is part of the $6.6 million on debt service that the county Finance Department is proposing be included in the SPLOST language.

Next Meeting In February

The Board of Commissioners will have to sort out the requests by March 4, when it is expected to vote to put the issue on the ballot for the May 20 primary.

It will hold a second public meeting, again starting at 6 p.m. at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road, on Feb. 10.

Benko said it is possible the list of requests will expand before that meeting.

After the meeting, citizen Kate McDaniel told Benko to add in money for farmland protection to the list.


Anonymous said...

Scott Berry LOVES spending taxpayer money but never does an acceptable job of explaining why he needs it. He just likes bells & whistles.

Anonymous said...

"Benko acknowledged that he was aware of citizen interest in funding for farmland protection, for historical preservation and for additional sidewalks.
But he said he didn’t have anything formal by way of a request, so he didn’t include these projects in the tally of $97.7 in requests."

Then why did he include the courthouse if there wasn't a formal request for it??? Oh, the behind the scenes manipulations of Melvin Davis and Scot Berry are never ending.