There are some expenditures just too large to include in a General Fund budget. The cost of maintaining and improving the roads is one example. The state offers a 2:1 match for dollars the county brings to the table, but the county has to have money to match state dollars. So the county can leverage those SPLOST dollars, essentially turning each dollar into about three. Getting a two to one return on our SPLOST dollar investment is highly desirable if it were a stock, I think we would all buy it!
Another example is the retiring of debt. This SPLOST referendum includes $10.4 million to pay off debts that the SPLOST can LEGALLY pay. The only current debts (legally prohibited to be paid with SPLOST funds are: the ABM Energy Performance Contract which is paid for with the energy savings produced by the project, the fire truck master lease and the Water Revenue Bonds.
SPLOST’s paying for the debts that it can, rather than paying for them from the General Fund creates these benefits to the General Fund: stabilizing and increasing fund balance, establishing cash reserves and reducing or eliminating the need for short-term financing (TAN), fully staffing departments and meeting their operating needs, and creating the potential for property tax reductions.
Arguably the most urgent item would be the E911 communications equipment. $5 million dollars (the equipment price tag) is too much money to squeeze out of the general fund, and as I just said, we are trying to pay debt down or off – not create more! Newton County and all of our municipalities benefit and have a shared interest in seeing that our E911 operations have all they need to keep us safe.
Allow me to use an analogy to sum up. I know I will need a new roof on my house someday, but I know I can't just pay for it out of my normal household budget. My industrious wife picks up a part-time job (not an unlikely scenario for those of you who know Lisa), thus bringing in some extra income. We take that income and open up a savings account that we DO NOT touch until there is enough money to pay cash for the roof. In doing this, we are actually able to take some of my normal income and set it aside for things that will happen but aren’t anticipated. You know, life’s little financial torpedoes as Dave Ramsey might say. So when those things happen, and they will, we can pay cash for them as well and not use our evil Visa card.
I believe not having this SPLOST leaves us vulnerable to those “torpedoes” that the county is sure to face (remember when NC borrowed money to replace the library HVAC?). I firmly believe the passing of SPLOST, joined with newly installed leadership and a heightened public awareness of the financial challenges facing us presents a real opportunity to get on the right track. Including citizens in the development of the SPLOST project list was a good first step in this direction. It is just a first step though. Future positive financial steps for Newton County need to be ensured by a vigilant citizenry that is proactively involved to help guide county leaders instead of reacting to decisions after they’ve been made.
Baxter Bouchillon is the chairman of the 2017 Newton County SPLOST Committee.