Sunday, November 10, 2019

Oconee County Expects To Spend $1 Million In Old SPLOST Money On Courthouse Expansion Now Underway

***Money For Historic And Scenic Facilities Not Committed***

Oconee County soon will have spent the remaining monies from the 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax as it completes work on the $2.5 million expansion of the Courthouse, Wes Geddings, county finance director, told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Geddings, in his financial update for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2020, said a little more than $1 million in unspent funds remains in 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) account at present.

Geddings included an update of spending from the 2004, 2009 and 2015 SPLOST accounts as part of his financial report.

The money in the “County Facilities Expansion & Renovation” category represents the only unspent funds in the 2004 account, Geddings reported.

The county is sitting on $224,450 in unspent money in the “Recreational, Historic & Scenic Facilities” category in the 2009 SPLOST and $132,137 in collected and unspent money for “Historic & Scenic Facilities” in the current, 2015 SPLOST, according to Gedding’s report.

Geddings said “there’s a plan in place” to begin spending the money for historic and scenic facilities but did not explain.

Financial Report

“I’m pleased to report that the county is currently financially sound,” Geddings said in starting his report.

Board Of Commissioners With Geddings

Geddings used identical language a year ago in his quarterly financial report, when he also reported on the SPLOST spending.

The county didn’t award the bid for construction of the Courthouse expansion until March, but Geddings last year said that the 2004 SPLOST monies were committed to that project.

Geddings said on Tuesday that the General Fund Balance “stands at about $11.9 million.”

A year ago, Geddings said the General Fund Balance was $10.2 million. The General Fund Balance is the savings account of the county.

Revenue and spending for the General Fund is on track, Geddings said.

SPLOST Spending

Geddings reported that the county is spending $1.6 million in SPLOST monies in the current fiscal year for road projects, $1.7 million for water and sewer projects, and the $2.5 million for the Courthouse expansion.

It also is spending $500,000 for a fire engine and $48,700 for design work for renovation of the Animal Services Facility, Geddings said.

Geddings noted the lack of spending of 2009 SPLOST revenue and 2015 SPLOST funds for historic and scenic facilities.

“There’s a plan in place to begin some of those projects as well,” Geddings said, but he did not elaborate.

County Administrator Comment

After the meeting, I asked Justin Kirouac, county administrator, to explain the plans referenced by Geddings for spending for historic and scenic facilities.

“It is something we’re working on,” Kirouac said. “By the end of the calendar year, we expect to have something before the Board.” He would not elaborate further.

The county does not have any citizen committee to recommend projects to use the SPLOST funds designated for historic and scenic preservation. The recreational part of the 2009 “Recreational, Historic & Scenic Facilities” category has been spent.

In February of 2018, former Oconee County resident Russ Page, representing a group of land owners, historians and archaeologists, and the Athens Land Trust, asked that the Board set aside $300,000 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue for the purchase of land for a county History Museum on Oconee River.

The Board has so far taken no public action on that request.

SPLOST Revenue

Geddings told the Board that Local Option Sales Tax and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues both were down about 3 percent in the first quarter over a year ago.

“I’m not concerned about this,” Geddings said. “I think it’s going to bounce back. As a matter of fact, I know it is because I have this month’s in the back pocket. We’ll report that next quarter, but this month is up 10 percent, which puts is back in the black for the whole fiscal year.”

What Geddings didn’t say was that local sales tax revenues had been lower in five of the last six months compared with a year earlier.

I had reported this pattern, based on data reported to the Board of Education.

The county collects three different 1 percent sales taxes: the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), the Education Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST), and the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). The former is fixed, but the latter two require periodic voter renewal.

Because of differences in what is covered by the taxes and differences in administrative fees, the three taxes produce different revenue amounts each month, though the SPLOST and ELOST amounts are very similar.

Data From Department Of Revenue

I downloaded the distributions for all three taxes in Oconee County from the Georgia Department of Revenue for the last two years.

The three taxes show the same general pattern in collections, and all three had been down five of the last six months, prior to the October distribution.

The chart below is for SPLOST for distributions for the last 24 months.

Click To Enlarge

I included the figure for the SPLOST distribution for October that Geddings said he had in his “back pocket.”

The county received $702,999 on Oct. 31, which is for September collections. That is up 10.7 percent from the $635,255 the county received on Oct. 31 of 2018.

For the 12 months from Nov. 30, 2017, to Oct. 31, 2018, the county took in $7,552,001. For the 12 months from Nov. 30, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2019, the county took in $7,881,998, or an increase of a 4.4 percent.

I did not include the pro rata quarterly distributions made by the Department of Revenue to counties, but those would change the totals slightly but would not substantially alter the percent change.

Farmland Protection

Following Gedding’s financial report, the Board approved the use of SPLOST accrued interest in an amount not to exceed $60,000 for Farmland Preservation to assist in funding a conservation easement for 40.8 acres of the Randy Wilkes Farm, 1011 Greene Ferry Road at Greensboro Road.

Wilkes is the brother of Oconee County Commission William “Bubber” Wilkes, who did not participate in the discussion or vote on the use of SPLOST funds for the easement.

In October of 2017, the Board of Commissioners had approved the Wilkes farm for protection, and in October of 2018, it approved funding for four additional forms for a total of $470,000.

The vote on Tuesday was to approve funding for the Wilkes farm. The $60,000 in SPLOST accrued interest will be added to $61,000 in SPLOST funds for the required $121,000 in matching funds for the easement.

The 40.8 acres that will be put under easement are part of a larger tract of 77.21 acres owned by Randy Wilkes.

The Athens Land Trust will hold the easement, which will prevent Randy Wilkes from developing the acreage.

Gedding’s financial report on Tuesday showed that the county has overspent SPLOST collections to date on “Farmland Protection” by $75,299.

Other Action

In other action at the meeting on Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners recognized the Oconee County Fire Rescue medical responders for their response in saving the life of a resident who experienced a major cardiac event.

Chad and Jennifer Arnest attended the meeting to express their thanks to the entire emergency response team for their rapid, life-sustaining assistance following Chad Arnest’s heart attack.

The 14 Oconee volunteer medical responders recognized were: Chase Appling, Jared Cargile, Daniel Culbertson, John Daniell, Derek Edwards, Dane Grayson, Ricky Hayes, Cameron Hughes, Shawn Johnston, Chris Mobley (Incident Command), Branden Newton, Mark Smith, Josh Willard (National EMS and Oconee Fire), and C.J. Worden.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs also presented the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Department with its PlanFirst Community designation at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday.

The Board appointed Susanna Rains Moriarty to the Board of Health, Carole Ludwig to the Farmland Preservation Committee, and Frederick Lutz, Sandra-Lee Zahrn, Mark Campbell, Angela Nichole Moss-Hill and Daphne Norton to the Library Advisory Board.


The video below is of the Nov. 5 meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

Recognition of the Oconee County Fire Rescue medical responders is at 5:13 in the video.

Geddings gave his report at 20:32 in the video.


Zippity said...

The Athens/Clarke county SPLOST procedure involves so much more citizen involvement, from initiating the list of what the money is to be used for, to helping pass the SPLOST, to overseeing the commissioner's spending of the SPLOST. We allow our commissioners too much power in spending this money. It is our money. We should be able to know in general what they are thinking of doing with it.

Anonymous said...

Ditto, Zippity.
The citizens of Oconee County have lost any input into county matters from SLOST to major spending on land and no bid contract projects.