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SPLOST: looking at the needs of the community
Historic Courthouse on Square

Newton County had its first meeting on a possible 2017 SPLOST referendum on Thursday, discussing such items as a new animal shelter, veteran’s park and African American history center, along with working on completing items from the 2011 SPLOST.

The law allows 10 years to finish projects voted on from a SPLOST referendum. Of the 18 projects voted on in 2010, the Miracle League Field project, some recreation projects in District 4 and the Walker’s Bend project have been completed. There have been some projects finished from transportation, fleet replacement and fire services.

During Thursday’s meeting, Chair Keith Ellis requested an order of projects to work on from the 2011 SPLOST, which was met with discussion concerning which projects still need funding.

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz read from the minutes from the Jan. 4, 2011 meeting concerning SPLOST, where commissioners agreed to not use bond money for any of the projects that were passed during a 2010 referendum.

“All money will be collected prior to beginning construction of any project on the project list and all projects are to come before the BOC for approval before a project be done,” said Schulz, reading off comments she made on Jan. 4, 2011.

The commissioners then looked at which projects could be completed first, and generally agreed that some could be begin with the design phase.

“I know we want to get some of these projects done, yet financially we don’t have enough [funds] collected for these bigger ones in my mind. Some of the smaller projects; we can get those started,” District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims said. “Some of the bigger ones; I don’t see how we can get started until we’re a little further down in our year to get more money.”

Eight-hundred, fifty thousand dollars a month has been collected mostly throughout the SPLOST period, with a total of more than $62 million expected to be raised before that SPLOST period ends in 2017.

Interim County Manager Lloyd Kerr said for a proposed 2017 SPLOST the county has estimated to raise the same amount each month.

Several steps need to be taken before the money raised by the SPLOST tax can be obtained. The first step is to make a list of level 1 projects — which includes projects used by the whole county, such as previous projects like the administration building and judicial center — and level 2 projects — all other county projects that might be specific to districts. The mayors of each municipality will then join in on a meeting to add projects within each municipality. That meeting must be held 30 days prior to the BOC issuing a call for referendum.

Step 2 is reaching an intergovernmental agreement.

The final step is to call for the SPLOST referendum, which must be made 29 or 90 days prior to the referendum date. The referendum date must be advertised once a week for four weeks, immediately preceding the election.

A date has yet to be set for a possible election. The BOC is looking at Nov. 8, during the general election, or at a special election on March 21, 2017, which would cost the county an estimated $25,000-$30,000 to conduct.

“In my mind it doesn’t matter when we have the election, as long as we have one,” District 1 Commissioner John Douglas said.

Among the items on Douglas’s wish list for a possible 2017 SPLOST is a new animal control building and a community center for the Spring Hill neighborhood.

Sims said he would like to see money placed on the 2017 SPLOST for infrastructure and roads to help alleviate traffic on Salem Road, along with funds to reduce the county’s debt.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson’s would like to see the county purchase the R.L. Cousins School, put in a football field and create a museum on the county’s African American history.

Schulz said her biggest area of needs for a new SPLOST is transportation. She would also like to see management and operating cost analysis be developed for each project.

“My district’s biggest concern is transportation,” Schulz said. “Not just roads and bridges, but multiple forms of transportation.”

Chair Keith Ellis said he would like to see the city and county work together for a Veteran’s park, and to expand the Senior Center.

“We owe it to them to expand that facility and make it where it’s appropriate for them and they don’t trip on each other’s canes.”

District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox was not in attendance Thursday but told The News that the No. 1 thing he has heard outside “meat and potatoes items” is money for trails.