Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Oconee County SPLOST Report Shows $9.2 Million In Unspent Funds From 2004 and 2009 Tax Collections

SPLOST 2015 Underway

Oconee County was sitting on $9.2 million in unspent funds in its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax accounts on June 30, three months before the 2009 tax came to an end, according to the annual report the county is required to publish by the end of the month.

The money includes $3.6 million in collected but unspent revenue from the 2004 SPLOST and $5.6 million from the 2009 SPLOST, which went into effect in September of 2009 when the 2004 SPLOST expired.

The $5.6 million in excess revenue over expenditures for the 2009 SPLOST occurred even though revenue for that 2009 tax fell short of projections.

The county actually collected just less than $29 million, rather than the $34 million it told voters it expected to receive from the tax, but it spent less than $23.4 million.

The county’s four cities received just less than $4.8 million, rather than the $5.7 million projected.

Not Final Figures

The actual revenue figures for the 2009 tax are not included in the report that should appear in this week’s or next week’s edition of The Oconee Enterprise, the publication in which the county’s legal documents appear.

Jail And EOC Center In Watkinsville

The county knows those figures, but it did not use them because the report covers the period ending June 30, 2015, according to law.

Wes Geddings, county finance director, told me that the actual revenue figures were 83.61% of the projections, and I used that percentage in calculating the differences between the revenue received and the expenditure.

In principle, the county could have gone on a spending spree and closed the gap between revenue received and outflow in the three months after the report’s closing date of June 30. That's unlikely to have happened.

2004 Revenues

The county did not spend any money from the 2004 SPLOST in Fiscal Year 2015, which ended on June 30, according to the report.

The unspent revenue in the 2004 SPLOST is in the category of “County Facilities Expansion & Renovation.”

In Fiscal Year 2014 the county spent $433,504 from 2004 SPLOST, but only $38,051 was for county facilities, with the remaining $395,453 in expenditures for water and sewer improvement.

The Board of Commission talked about spending those accumulated 2004 funds in the run-up to the 2015 SPLOST and again this year as it confronted space problems with the Courthouse, but nothing of those discussions is reflected in the SPLOST spending report.

2009 Funds

The county underspent from the 2009 SPLOST mostly in the area of water and sewer facilities.

The BOC decided not to use the water and sewers money but instead to retire the debt for the County Jail and Emergency Operations Center-911 Building on Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville.

The report shows that, as of June 30, 2015, some overspending had taken place for that debt retirement.

The county also underspent for fire station facilities and equipment, for recreational, historic and scenic facilities, and for farmland protection.

The county overspent for communication facilities.

No Oversight

The report that will appear in the Enterprise is the only public accounting required for the county’s SPLOST program, and the county does not go beyond that minimum.

I obtained the copy of the report before its publication through an open records request.

In neighboring Athens-Clarke County and some other counties around the state, citizen committees oversee SPLOST spending to make sure it matches with the promises made to voters when the referendum was passed.

Don Martin from Athens-Clarke County gave a presentation in March to Oconee County citizens on the value of and operation of an oversight committee, but there has been no further public discussion of the possibility.

City Spending

The 2009 SPLOST was the first in Oconee County that included money for the four cities, and each had put forward a number of projects it wished to fund if the referendum were successful.

The state collects the SPLOST revenues and distributes them to the county.

The county then passes the money along to the cities based on population size.

The SPLOST report, prepared by Oconee County Finance Director Geddings, shows that the county allocated 95.1 percent of the revenue received to the cities, as of June 30.

SPLOST 2015 began on Oct. 1 of this year.


Dr. Rosemary Franklin said...

It appears that with this surplus, the county could afford an Executive Direction for Keep Oconee County Clean and Beautiful. "Clean and Beautiful" can no longer exist as a member of the national organization if it has no Executive Director, which is a full-time job.

Beanne said...

This is why I vote against SPLOST. People think the commissioners will use the money as the people suggested. But, no, they sit on it for over a decade. They could put bathrooms at Heritage Park. They could add parks and improve other parks (like a swimming pool). They could protect farmland. But, no, they sit on the money which makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

"The money includes $3.6 million in collected but unspent revenue from the 2004 SPLOST and $5.6 million from the 2009 SPLOST"

Department heads, including Public Safety, have a long list of capita needs, yet Melvin Davis holds on to almost $10 mil in SPLOST funds, and the four other commissioners allow him to do so.

Shameful. Incompetence.

Yet Melvin is allowed to operate in his king-like manner with no accountability.

Xardox said...

What? Were they going to keep this secret?
Heaven forbid the money will be used to roll back those steadily climbing property taxes.
Oops! Ask any commissioner, he'll rapidly tell you they haven't raised the millage rate. "Held the line!" he'll say, and look at you as though we ought to be radiantly grateful.
Need to change the subject in a hurry?
Ask about the property assessments.

Ann Bellune said...

I would like my tax money(SPLOST) back please. Oh and add the interest that would have accrued had I been able to keep my own money. It seems to me that this money was taken on false pretenses by our local government and paid in full yet they have not delivered what they promised. After all, this extra tax was designated for a specific project. If they have not delivered the product or project, why not and if it has already been completed and there is money left over (ha) then return the money to the rightful owner - THE TAXPAYER!

It's time we got some answers from this Board of Commissioners instead of discussions or more "Sounding Boards" or "Advisory Committees" chosen at the meetings. If it's that difficult to get business done in a three hour meeting, have the grace to resign and let someone who can wade through the BS and make progress take over!