Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Final 2015 SPLOST Meeting Shortest Of Four Held By Oconee County Board Of Commissioners

Reallocated 2009 Funds Explained

Only four people spoke Monday night at the final public hearing on the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, held in the courthouse in Watkinsville.

The meeting covered little new ground and was the shortest of the four hearings held since January on projects to be funded by the 1 percent sales tax should voters approve it in November.

The purpose of the meeting was to give citizens the latest thinking of the Board of Commissioners on possible SPLOST projects and to allow the Board to get feedback from the citizens, but two members of the Board, John Daniell and Margaret Hale, were absent.

Both had been advocates for delaying the vote from the May 20 to the November 4 ballot to give citizens additional time to state their views and to give the BOC more time to consider the list of requests for SPLOST funding.

Two Repeat Speakers

Robert Wyatt, a member of the Library Board, last night made a pitch for funding for the libraries, as he has at previous meetings on SPLOST projects.

Robin Stevens, 1311 Skipstone Drive, representing tennis enthusiasts, repeated her appeal from the meeting on Feb. 10 for funding of new tennis courts at Oconee Veterans Park.

George Justice, representing the Oconee Historical Society, requested funding for historical projects in the county, as the video below shows.

Justice asked for $1 million for historical projects, but the Board already has decided in preliminary discussions not to provide any money in SPLOST 2015 for that purpose, turning down a request from citizen Russ Page of $500,000.

Residential Sewers Requested

Jared York from the Athens Area Home Builders Association asked the Board to include funding for the county’s Utility Department in the list of SPLOST 2015 projects, as shown in the video below.

York said the county needs to increase its sewer capacity and provide some of that capacity to home builders. At present, the county is not providing residential sewer capacity for new residential projects.

York argued that some home builders need residential capacity to be able to use the lots they are sitting on that cannot be built without sewers.

Prior to the meeting last night, the BOC had tentatively agreed to include $10 million in SPLOST 2015 for Utility Department projects, including expanded sewer services.

Utility Department Figures Changed

At the beginning of the meeting last night, County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko told the 24 people in the audience that the BOC actually had decided to increase the amount of funding for the Utility Department by $2.1 million from the $10 million figure that had been presented at the April 28 meeting.

Benko said this was the result of a decision the BOC made on May 6 to reallocate monies from the current 2009 SPLOST.

The current SPLOST is running behind schedule, and the county now expects to collect only about 82 percent of the $40.4 million originally projected for the six-year tax period.

The BOC voted to shift money away from the $6.8 million allocated in the current SPLOST for the Utility Department and to transfer it to law enforcement in the 2009 SPLOST allocation to pay for the debt for the jail.

The BOC decided to compensate the loss to the Utility Department in the 2009 SPLOST by putting the addition $2.1 million into its 2015 SPLOST allocation and reducing by $2.1 million in the 2015 allocation to law enforcement.

Percents Vs. Dollar Amounts

The resolution passed by the BOC leading up to the March 17, 2009, vote on SPLOST 2009 allocated money to the eight different project categories, using both dollar amounts and percentages of projected income.

The resolution labels the sum of those dollar amounts as a “projected total.”

County Attorney Daniel Haygood told me in an email exchange today that the dollar amounts were the more important figures in the resolution and that the county was free to reallocate moneys within those categories because of the projected shortfall in collections.

“I am not aware of any law which requires that the reductions be made pro rata,” Haygood wrote to me. “Further, no approved project has been abandoned, which would raise a concern under the statute.”

Percentages For Cities

At the meeting last night, Benko began by explaining to the audience that the projected $55 million from the six-year 2015 SPLOST will be divided between the unincorporated parts of the county and the county’s four cities.

Benko showed a slide indicating that 14.01 percent of the projected revenue would go to the cities and the remaining 85.99 percent would go to the county.

The county signs an intergovernmental agreement with the cities on allocation of funds from SPLOST, and Haygood said it contains both the projected dollar amounts and the percentages.

Haygood said he thinks that the cities may think of the monies in terms of percentages of revenue received rather than in terms of dollar amounts.

Shortest Meeting

The meeting last night was the shortest of the four held by the BOC on the 2015 SPLOST projects, lasting just less than a half hour.

Four people spoke at the April 28 meeting, which lasted just less than 40 minutes.

Fourteen speakers had gone to the microphone at the first meeting on Jan. 13, and 22 spoke at the second meeting on Feb. 10.

The first meeting lasted just less than 1 hour and 15 minutes, and the second meeting lasted just less than 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Next Meeting May 21

The BOC will hold a work session to discuss SPLOST allocations at 6 p.m. on May 21 in the courthouse in Watkinsville.

That meeting will be held in the Grand Jury Room.

Benko said last night that the Board has about $2.5 million in projected funds yet to be allocated at that session. It also can change allocations already tentatively agreed upon.

The BOC is scheduled to discuss SPLOST projects at its regular meeting on May 27 and finalize that list at its meeting on June 3.

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