Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Athens-Clarke Administrator To Talk About SPLOST Oversight On March 26 At Oconee County Library

Open To Public

While Oconee County has no history of citizen direct oversight of its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program, neighboring Athens-Clarke County has an active citizen committee monitoring how the unified government of the city and county spends its SPLOST revenues.

Such citizen oversight committees also exist or have existed elsewhere in the state, including in Cobb and DeKalb counties, in Savannah and in Atlanta.

Don Martin, administrator for the Athens-Clarke County SPLOST program, will explain the activities of the unified government’s Oversight Committee in a presentation starting at 7 p.m. on March 26 at the Oconee County Library.

Walking Trail Veterans Park

He also will discuss the activities of the Citizens Advisory Committee, which evaluates the proposed projects submitted for SPLOST funding and recommends the list to the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission for final adoption.

Martin has been invited to give his presentation, which is open to the public, by Russ Page, a citizen active in farmland and historic site preservation in the county.

Oconee Citizen Involvement

Oconee County does not have a citizen committee that reviews SPLOST proposals, and the Oconee County Board of Commissioners makes decisions on which projects go before the voters in a SPLOST referendum.

In accordance with state law, the Board of Commissioners in 2009 and for the 2015 SPLOST held a series of public hearings in which citizens were given a chance to respond to project suggestions offered by department heads and other government leaders.

Following those presentations in the run-up to the 2009 SPLOST and the 2015 SPLOST, Page proposed that the referendums include funding both for farmland protection and for preservation of historic and scenic sites in the county.

In both cases, the BOC did include small amount of money for farmland protection and for preservation of historical and scenic sites.

Spending History

So far, the county has spent only $5,600 from the money in 2009 SPLOST for historic and scenic preservation. The 2009 SPLOST ends on Sept. 30 of this year.

The county also has reallocated funds within SPLOST 2009, taking money from water and sewer projects and using those monies to fund payment of debt on the county jail.

County Attorney Daniel Haygood advised the Board it could move funds within SPLOST categories because SPLOST 2009 will fall short of its projected revenue level of $40.4 million.

The Board took this action without seeking any citizen feedback on the movement of the funds.

The 2015 SPLOST, approved by voters in November of last year, will follow the 2009 SPLOST and run for 6 years.

Athens-Clarke Procedures

Such a movement of funds without citizen review would not have been possible in Athens-Clarke County.

At the meeting on March 26, ACC SPLOST Manager Martin will discuss his role as director of the Citizen Advisory Committee and of the SPLOST Oversight Committee.

The Citizens Advisory Committee evaluates proposals from department heads, citizen committees and individual citizens and then recommends a list of projects to the Mayor and Commission.

The SPLOST Oversight Committee follows each funded project to insure that it stays within the original funding level and that the project fulfils the original proposed goals.

Athens-Clarke County has had this level of citizen involvement since at least the late 1990s, when Gwen O’Looney was the equivalent of the mayor of Athens.

O’Looney has indicated she will attend the meeting at the Library on March 26 if her schedule allows.

Background On SPLOST

The Georgia General Assembly enacted legislation in 1985 allowing counties to impose a 1 percent sales tax to fund capital projects. The law has been changed over the years to allow counties to partner with cities in the imposition of the tax.

The governments cannot use SPLOST proceeds for operating expenses.

The tax has to be approved by voters in the county and must be renewed in a specified period of time, based on how the tax is structured.

Oconee County voters approved a SPLOST in 1985, and the county has had a SPLOST in place ever since.

Invitation To Martin

Page extended the invitation to Martin to make the presentation on March 26 following an informal meeting in January in which Page, Sarah Bell and I participated.

The three of us had attended a two-day planning meeting of the Board of Commissioners in January at which SPLOST 2015 was discussed.

At that meeting, county officials acknowledged they intentionally overestimated the amount of revenue to be generated by SPLOST 2015 and that not all of the projects on the list approved by voters are likely to be funded at the level specified.

Page attended several meetings of the Athens-Clarke County SPLOST oversight committee and reported to Bell and me that he was “impressed” with the citizen involvement.

Bell and I joined Page in extending the invitation to Martin for the meeting on the 26th as an opportunity to share information on how one SPLOST oversight committee operates.

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