County, municipalities meet to discuss 2020 SPLOST projects

Published 12:37 pm Sunday, March 3, 2019

By Ken Gustafson

AMERICUS — The Sumter County Board of Commissioners, along with representatives from the cities of Americus, DeSoto, Plains, Leslie, and Andersonville, met on Tuesday to discuss 2020 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) projects that each municipality has planned for 2020. The meeting took place at the Sumter County Agricultural Center.
“This evening, we just want to start off by presenting our projects,” Sumter County Board Chair Clay Jones said. “We don’t really want to get into anything else that would prolong the meeting.”
Americus Mayor Barry Blount said that they don’t currently have a SPLOST project to present, but that he and other city officials have talked about how much revenue the city will generate. County Financial Director Janice Jarvis said that she wanted to explain where the county stands on the current SLPOST, as well as what she projects for the 2020 SPLOST and why.
Jarvis pointed out that $23 million was anticipated at the beginning of the current SPLOST. Jarvis said that May and June 2016 were, in her words, exceptionable months as far as revenue for the county was concerned.
“It was a very rare instance. I called the {Georgia}Department of Revenue just to make sure they hadn’t made a mistake when we received the distribution of $655,000 in one month,” Jarvis said. “They assured me that it was no mistake.”
Jarvis said that in order to figure out the average projected costs for the SPLOST projects, she removed those two extraordinary revenue-generating months and came up with a distribution average of $297,564 per month based on the remaining distribution. By doing this, she came up with a figure of $21,424,000.
“That’s kind of what I had anticipated all along. I had anticipated $21,500,000. That would be my recommendation for the revenues for the 2020 SPLOST.”
Blount said he would like to see two things taken into consideration in the distribution of SPLOST money: point of sale and population numbers. He told Jarvis that the area where most of the taxes are paid in, as well as the county’s population numbers, should be considered in the distribution of money for SPLOST projects for each municipality.
Blount also expressed a concern about communication between the Americus Police Department and Sumter County law enforcement officers, as well as fire and rescue and first responders. This began a lengthy discussion among the representatives as to what kind of communication system the county and its municipalities should be using to communicate with each other. “Where are we with that?” Blount asked. “One of the problems that we have, and I think Chief {Mark} Scott and Col. {Eric} Bryant can attest to this, is for them to communicate inside a building. They can’t talk (referring to radio communication). They have no way to communicate.” Blount said there should be a way for first responders to have that capability. “I think we need to determine if we want to go forward with that project and it needs to be a joint project,” Blount said. “It needs to be equitably funded as well.”
Jarvis said there have been extensive conversations on the communications issue between county public safety officials and those of Americus. “Right now, as it stands, our public safety officials are recommending that we go with a digital system,” Jarvis said. “They don’t see the need for us to go to the 800 MHZ system.”
Bob Smith, Leslie Police chief, said his city recently went to the digital system and is no longer using the analog system. “I can attest that it was a minimal amount of cost for our city,” Smith said. He held up a portable radio and described how he was able to talk on it from a Ford dealership in Cordele across I-75 to a central dispatch location just like he was able to talk on a cell phone. “We can talk portable to portable now from over to Lee County to out by the lake where I live,” Smith said. “We went digital. We did not go with 800 MHZ. It was cost-effective for us. As far as reliability, it’s a difference between night and day.”
One concern Sumter County Commissioner George Torbert brought up was that in three to five years, the system they decide to go with might end up becoming antiquated due to the advance of technology. He also expressed concerns about the 800 MHZ system. “From what I’ve heard, the 800 MHZ isn’t without flaws either, and it’s very expensive. I do know that,” Torbert said. Americus Police Chief Mark Scott remarked that the biggest thing to switching to an 800 MHZ system is interoperability. “The majority of the agencies in the state of Georgia have switched to the 800 MHZ system,” Scott said. “They can all talk to each other.” Scott gave an example of when police officers Jody Smith and Nick Smarr were murdered, federal, state, and local agencies from all over Georgia came to Americus and were all talking to each other, but he couldn’t talk to them because the system Americus is on is not compatible. “We’re on a 50-year-old technology platform and they’re on a current technology platform,” Scott said. “The key is interoperability.”
Sumter County Commissioner Mark Waddell asked Scott what he thought the cost would be to install the 800 MHS system and connect all the services together. Scott replied that his department has come up with costs ranging from $1 million to $4 million. “When we throw out that $4.5 million, that’s to do the entire project, making it interconnected and region-wide so that we’re able to talk to anybody in this state,” Scott said.
Scott suggested there should be a meeting at which an expert on both the digital and 800 MHZ systems can do presentations so that both the county and its municipalities can decide what is best for them.
Sumter County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Col. Eric Bryant said communication needs to be a priority in the SPLOST. “We want some communication improvement, but the biggest thing is what dollar amount to put on that,” Bryant said. “I think that down the road, there could be some discussion about that. … we definitely have to do something. Our system is extremely antiquated.” Bryant said that Crisp County went to the 800 MHZ system and is doing well with it, but that every county is going to be different based on geography.
Mayor Blount reiterated his earlier point that as far is the 2020 SPLOST is concerned, the SPLOST funds for whichever system is chosen need to be equitably divided amongst all the parties. Commissioner Waddell remarked that there are many SLPOST projects that municipalities may want to do, but that there are some projects that will sell the SLPOST better than anything else and will benefit everyone.
Board Chair Jones asked if the city of Andersonville had any SPLOST projects they’d like to present. Andersonville City Clerk Teresa B. Owens said that there are three projects. “Our first one is for our parks and recreation,” Owens said. “We have two city parks in Andersonville that need to be updated. The cost for those two parks would be $80,000. The second project that we have is a generator for our well. We have a natural gas system so we would have it connected to our natural gas instead of gasoline. That would be $65,000.”
Owens said Andersonville has a public works project involving the purchase of a small tractor with implements. The projected cost would be $56,000.
James Cutts, mayor of Desoto, said that his city needs an upgraded water system. “We are working on prices for that,” he said. “The next thing is that we have $23,000 budgeted to get our roads fixed. We are in really bad shape down there getting in and out of DeSoto.”
Cutts also said that his city is looking to build a place for their children to go to so they’ll have something to do. “We need some after-school programs for our kids down there,” Cutts said. “Our kids in DeDoto really don’t have anything to do after school. The only thing we have down there is a basketball court that needs to be resurfaced, along with new baskets.” Cutts said he’s has talked with Sumter County Parks and Recreation Director Tim Estes about it, but that the project needs to be completed soon so their children can have things to do.
Jesse Reese, the Leslie City clerk, said that her city is looking at doing a few different things. “We started doing a lot lately, especially in our downtown,” Reese said. “We are also looking into bringing our fire department back up to where it once was. Our voluntary fire department has doubled in the past month and we have volunteers and a new fire chief. We have some improvements that need to be made and equipment that needs to be ordered to get things back to where they used to be.” Reese said Leslie needs a police vehicle and equipment for public works.
Plains Mayor L.E. “Boze” Godwin III said that his city needs equipment for public works, including a dump truck for $50,000. “We could probably buy one from the state for $5,000,” Godwin said. Plains City Clerk Donna Windham said that they have street repairs budgeted for the 2020 SPLOST. “We’re waiting on somebody we’ve been waiting on for six to eight months to come in here and pave one of our roads,” Windham said. “We also need water meters and new equipment to read our meters. We have applied for a CBG grant for a new water system. This is the sixth year in a row for the same project, but the CBG grant isn’t going to cover the water meters.”
Windham went on to say that the city of Plains desperately needs new water lines. She went on to say that they would like to renovate the Plains City Hall. “We don’t even have central heating and air in our building,” she said. “We have four window units, so we need heating and air in City Hall.”
Sumter County General Operations Administrator/County Clerk Rayetta Volley said Sumter County Fire & Rescue needs a new fire station. Volley also stated that updates need to be made at the correctional institute, and roads and bridges need to be fixed. She also said that Sumter County is looking to build a new building for the public works department.
Volley also mentioned that the county has put in $250,000 for economic development. “We were hoping that some of the other cities could possibly look at helping with economic development,” Volley said. “That’s kind of like communications. It would also benefit everyone and not just Sumter County.”
Chairman Jones suggested that a date be set for a meeting to determine the percentages of the distribution of SPLOST funds to each municipality. Blount asked Jones when a meeting could be scheduled to have a radio communications expert come in and explain the pros and cons of the analog, digital and 800 MHZ systems. Bryant suggested that an expert from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) be brought in to explain how each system works and what system would be the best for the county and its municipalities. Jones asked Bryant if he would arrange such a meeting and he agreed to do so.
Jones suggested that another meeting take place involving a representative from each municipality and representatives from the county to discuss the percentages of SPLOST money to be distributed amongst the municipalities. No date for a meeting has been set.