Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Oconee County Commissioners Tonight Approved New SPLOST Schedule For November Vote

New Public Hearings Set

Oconee County Commissioners tonight agreed to a new schedule for the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, setting up public hearings in June and July that will lead up to a vote on Nov. 4.

The schedule calls for the Board of Commissioners to vote at its meeting on Aug. 5 on the final list of projects to be funded by the SPLOST, should voters approve it in November.

Davis, Luke And Daniell, L-R

Prior to that vote, the Commissioners are to hold a work session on July 2 to reach agreement on SPLOST funding priorities.

Commissioner John Daniell tonight asked that the Commissioners meet before the public hearings on July 30 and July 14 to resolve issues among them about how to address courthouse safety and requests from a number of department heads.

BOC Chairman Melvin Davis suggested the Board take up those matters at its regularly meetings on May 27 and June 3.

May Vote Postponed

Commissioners Daniell, Margaret Hale and Jim Luke, over the objections of Commissioner Mark Saxon and Davis, voted on March 4 to delay the SPLOST referendum to November.

Late last year, the Commissioners had agreed to a schedule for consideration of the 2015 SPLOST that presumed a vote at statewide elections then scheduled for July.

In January, the state legislature moved state election date to May 20 because of a federal court ruling on how the state handles absentee ballots.

Daniell, Hale and Luke argued that the change in dates meant they were rushing decisions on what was to be included in the SPLOST language unnecessarily and voted to delay the vote until November.

Saxon said he was ready to go forward, and Davis, who only votes in the case of a tie, registered his objection to the delay, saying it was possible for the Commissioners to reach agreement and stick to the original schedule.

Schedule Approved

The schedule approved tonight replaces the one the Commissioners approved late last year, which included public hearings held on Jan. 13 and Feb. 10.

With the new date, the county was obligated by state law to hold another set of hearings. Both will begin at 6 p.m. and be held at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road.

Daniell’s request was that the Commissioners reach agreement among themselves on what will be presented to the public at those hearings.

“I want to make sure we take some time before that first public meeting to have another couple of our meetings,” Daniell said tonight. “I know we’ve got some questions on the security plan that we need to have answered and finalized.”

He also said he felt the Commissioners should have more discussion with a few department heads about some of their requests.

Davis agreed readily to the suggestion.

Courthouse Key Issue

At a work session on March 3, Davis had suggested that the Commissioners turn aside a request by Chief Superior Court Judge David Sweat for $25 million for a new courthouse or judicial facility in favor on spending $2.7 million to improve security at the current courthouse.

That change will require that all of the non-judicial offices now in the courthouse, including the Commission office and the tax office, be moved elsewhere.

Daniell contended it was necessary to know something about those relocation plans before the Commissioners could vote on the SPLOST priority list.

Davis proposed that the $2.7 million to be spent on courthouse security come from unspent SPLOST 2004 funds, and Daniell argued that such a proposal, which had not been made prior to that meeting, required additional time for consideration.

SPLOST 2009 Expiration

Davis said last year that the county needed to put the 2015 SPLOST on the ballot early in case voters turned it down.

State law does not allow a county to put a defeated SPLOST referendum back on the ballot until a year has passed.

According to Oconee County Finance Director Wes Geddings, the first collection from 2009 SPLOST was October 2009. The state distributes the funds a month after collection, so the first distribution month was November 2009.

The 2009 SPLOST expires on Sept. 30, 2015, with the last distribution in October 2015, according Geddings.

That means, if voters should turn down SPLOST in November of 2014 and the county puts it back on the ballot in November of 2015, the county would miss out on SPLOST revenues for October and November of 2015 even if voters gave approval in the second vote.

2 comments:

Donna Pittenger said...

Please excuse my ignorance but I'm not familiar with the rules and regulations for SPLOST. My question is how long does a county have to spend distributed SPLOST funds? It appears from your article there are funds remaining from 2004. That being said, are there approved expenditures for those funds? If so, why haven't they been spent? If not, why haven't the commissioners determined what requests can be approved for those funds? Also, are there other SPLOST funds from previous years which remain unspent? For example, it appears the county animal shelter could use air conditioning for the buildings in which the canine population in housed. I am a volunteer at the shelter and I would strongly encourage the BOC member spend an afternoon out there in July or August and see just how hot that place is. Even with fans running which are so loud you can't even think the place is stifling. Combine the with the high humidity and it is difficult for the staff to get the floors dry after cleaning. All in all, it can be a most unpleasant place in which to work or volunteer, not to mention how uncomfortable the animals are. Shame on these individuals for not making this place a priority. Clearly courthouse security is necessary but so are may other requests. Lee, how can the BOC be apprised of these thoughts about the shelter?
thanks....D. Pittenger

Lee Becker said...

Donna,

The unspent SPLOST 2004 funds were in a category for government facilities. The language of a SPLOST referendum is written to provide parameters and allow some flexibility. The current plan is for the BOC to use the unspent funds for courthouse renovation and for library facilities.

The best way for you to voice your concerns is to attend the meetings mentioned in the post and indicate how you think money should be spent.

I hope this helps.

Lee