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Posted: February 27, 2011 12:30 a.m.

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Past SPLOST successes: the 2005 SPLOST

Photos by Brittany Thomas/

Perks of the projects: 2005 SPLOST project Nelson Heights Communtiy Center is enjoyed by Camiyah Smith, Demarious Pitts and Shane McDuffie.

This is the second part in our Sunday SPLOST series leading up to the SPLOST special election on March 15. Today's story will look back at the $58.8 million, 2005 SPLOST approved by voters and detail how that money was spent. We'll also look at how the 2011 SPLOST was compiled, get answers as to whether it should have been handled differently and briefly look at how other counties prepare for their SPLOSTs.

As Newton County residents prepare to vote for their fifth SPLOST, they're left with ever present question: are the SPLOST projects worth their tax dollars?
County Commissioner Mort Ewing said officials and residents had just as many questions and concerns about the 2005 SPLOST as they do today.

According to 2005 Covington News articles, the arguments of the time centered on whether recreation projects should be paid for with SPLOST or through the newly implemented impact fee. Impact fee are paid when land is developed, and are another way to pay for capital projects, like libraries and parks.

Officials also questioned why the Newton County Detention Center needed to be expanded after being built only a few years earlier and why they should spend $7.62 million to purchase a digital radio system that would allow all public safety agencies to seamlessly communicate with each other.

"We had just as much controversy in 2005 as we've had in 2011," Ewing said. "I can show you the 2005 list and what's been completed."


The 2005 list

As of the end of 2010, Newton County and its five municipalities have spent more than 76 percent of the $57.19 million they’ve collected. The 2005 SPLOST will be collected until June 30, 2011. The majority of the unspent money includes about $9 million for various road projects, which will be completed over the next few years, and $5 million for a proposed downtown civic and conference center, which may or may not be completed.

County attorney Jenny Carter said, in the simplest terms, the civic center and all other 2005 projects must be completed by June 30, 2016. After June 2016 all remaining SPLOST money would be used to pay debt or to reduce property taxes if the county had no debt.

The county is actually expecting to collect between more than $60 million by the time the 2005 SPLOST ends, Administrative Assistant John Middleton said. Any money above the $58.8 million total will go to pay off debt.

Apart from the civic center, every other major project on the 2005 list has been completed and is being used, except for the Historic Jail on Stallings Street. Construction has begun on the project, but it will require additional funding to complete. See the status of all of the 2005 projects in the accompanying box.

The most expensive project on the list ended up being the Newton County Administration Building which cost $13.43 million. While SPLOST covered $5 million, the majority of the project was bonded, which is why the county has included $5 million for debt service in the 2011 SPLOST list.


Forming the 2011 list

The Newton County Board of Commissioners is responsible for putting together and approving a SPLOST list, and it began discussing projects in September.

By the time all interested county and city groups had submitted their wish lists, the board was staring at nearly $200 million in projects. The board began eliminating projects over the coming weeks, but didn’t actually produce a list until Ewing submitted a $57.6 million list in later November.

According to a January 2005 article in The News, the county didn’t approve the 2005 SPLOST list until late January. Although the board had a two-month jump this time, Ewing and Chairman Kathy Morgan both agreed the process should have started a few months earlier, in June or July.

Ewing said he would also form a SPLOST committee as soon as discussions begin, so that can start spreading the word.

The board was split over the list, particularly because of the presence of an undefined agricultural facility and a blanket $1.1 million allocation for District 4 projects. Should the board more fully vet projects?

"You try to identify those needs, like the first one was Lake Varner in 1987. To start with all you’ve got is a skeleton. Once people vote for the skeleton list, then people put meat on it," Ewing said. "It would be almost impossible to get all of the details today that would be needed today for a project that is going to happen five or six years from now."

Ewing said that ambiguity on the front end is why all SPLOST projects are required to come back before the board before they are approved.

However, Chairman Morgan said if she could suggest one change for the future it would be to require all groups seeking SPLOST funding to fill out a list stating the project’s purpose, cost and future maintenance and operation costs.

"We considered the discussion in our meetings to be our vetting process. Some projects were discussed a lot and others, even without specifics, we felt comfortable with and some we didn’t have a good idea of," Morgan said.

Similar sized counties handle SPLOST in varying ways, according to various county clerks. Columbia County on Georgia’s eastern border begins discussion for its SPLOST nearly two years in advance of the election. Bartow County in northwestern Georgia begins discussing SPLOST a year ahead of time, while Henry County follows a similar timeline to Newton and approved its list in 2007 a month before the election.

The third part of our Sunday SPLOST series will begin examining the 2011 projects in depth.




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