County, cities meet on SPLOST issues

Published 1:08 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2019

By Ken Gustafson

AMERICUS — The Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC), along with representatives from the cities of Americus, DeSoto, Plains, Andersonville, and Leslie, met for a special called meeting on Monday at the Sumter County Courthouse to discuss the distribution of Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding for the county and for each municipality
This meeting was a follow-up from the previous SPLOST meeting in February. At that meeting, County Financial Director Janice Jarvis said that the anticipated total SPLOST revenue would be approximately $21.5 million to be distributed to the county and to each municipality for their various SPLOST projects.
There were two proposals discussed at the meeting as to how the SPLOST money would be distributed. The BOC came up with two proposals: a “green” and a “gold” proposal. Each proposal was highlighted in green and gold on a sheet of paper.
Each proposal showed in detail how much SPLOST money would be allocated to the county and how much SPLOST money each municipality would receive. The green proposal showed that Sumter County’s SPLOST funds would decrease by $528,900 while the funds for the municipalities would increase. Under the green proposal, the county would still have $11,296,100 (52.54 percent) and the city of Americus would have $9,021,400 (41.96 percent). However, the SPLOST funds for Americus would not increase. Under the green proposal, SPLOST money for Plains would increase by $167,700 and they would be allocated $430,000. The city of Leslie’s SPLOST funds would increase by $204,250. That municipality would get $322,500 (1.5 percent).
Andersonville’s SPLOST funds would increase by $79,550 and they would have a total of $215,000 (1 percent) to use for SPLOST projects. DeSoto’s funding for SPLOST projects would increase by $77,400 under the green proposal. They would have a total of $215,000 (1 percent) of SPLOST money to work with.
During the last SPLOST, Sumter County was allocated $11,825,000 (55 percent) and Americus had $9,021,400 of SPLOST funds (41.96 percent). Plains had $262,300 (1.22 percent). Leslie was allocated $118,250 (0.55 percent). Andersonville received $135,450 (0.63 percent) for its SPLOST projects, and DeSoto received a total of $137,600 (0.64 percent) in SPLOST funding. The percentages listed are the percentages of the total amount of the $21.5 million for the county and its municipalities combined.
According to County Co-Administrator Rayetta Volley, the idea behind both proposals was for the county’s amount of SPLOST money to decrease, while the amount of money allocated to each municipality would increase.
Under the gold proposal, the county’s amount of SPLOST funds would decrease by $64,500. The county would have a total of $11,180,000 (52 percent) to use for SPLOST projects. The city of Americus would get an increase of $116,100 and they would have $9,137,500 (42.5 percent) to use for SPLOST projects. All of the other municipalities would get the same increase and would have the same amount of SPLOST money as outlined in the green proposal. The main difference between the two proposals is that the city of Americus would get an increase of $116,100 in SPLOST money under the gold proposal, whereas it would get no increase at all under the green proposal.
Americus Mayor Barry Blount preferred the gold proposal. “I prefer the one in yellow,” Blount said. Jarvis pointed out that the gold proposal is not much different than the green proposal. “It’s just showing Americus getting a half a percent more and us (the county) taking a half a percent less,” Jarvis said.
Blount tried to make his case that he would prefer that the BOC implement the gold proposal due to the fact that half of the population of the county lives in Americus. Jarvis pointed out to Blount that it is no burden to be the economic hub of the county. “You get great revenue off of being the economic hub,” Jarvis said. “You get greater revenue for being the economic hub than any other city here.” Jarvis continued to point out to Blount the benefits that Americus has over the other cities in the county. “It’s not just a burden that costs fire and police protection,” Jarvis said. “You have a lot of commercial establishments that pay ad valorem taxes. You have gas, water. It is an economic advantage that the other cities do not have and that the county doesn’t have.”
County Commissioner Mark Waddell told Blount that the county is paying for things such as parks and recreation, the library and the humane society. Blount countered that the city of Americus is paying for those things just like the county is. “That’s a lost argument,” Blount said. “City residents pay county taxes for recreation. Don’t throw that argument out on me. City residents pay city taxes and county taxes as well. There’s no roll back on the city taxpayers anymore either. We do pay our fair share for county services.” Waddell pointed out that the SPLOST money the county is putting out is to benefit everyone in the county from the library to parks and recreation. “That’s money that we could use for something else,” Waddell said. “This is extra taxes. It’s SPLOST.”
Board Chairman Clay Jones told Blount that he likes the proposal that the county is offering, but that the city of DeSoto is going to lose. “They (DeSoto) are in worse shape than anybody else in the room,” Jones said. Jones asked DeSoto Mayor James Cutts if he had anything to say. Cutts said that the water system in DeSoto that was installed in 1971 has not been updated and is obsolete. “We can’t get parts for some of the equipment that we have in there,” Cutts said. “The system that was put in there is outdated. We’ve stated that it is hard for us to get in and out of DeSoto because the roads are in bad shape. We just need to have more of what we don’t have right now.” Cutts said hat just as the children of Americus need things to do recreationally, the children of DeSoto need that as well.
Jones said compared to the surrounding counties and the cities in those counties that have a SPLOST, the city of Americus is doing extremely well.
“The other counties are getting 75 percent. We are only getting 52 percent or something like that,” Jones said. Jarvis remarked that the main difference between the two proposals is how much money the city of Americus is willing to give up to help the smaller cities. Jones told Blount that he would really like for Americus to give the extra $116,100 to a smaller city. “That’s what I really want and you can just stay where you’re at,” Jones said. Jarvis remarked that the smaller municipalities seem to always be on the short end of the stick. “Their costs go up just like our costs go up,” Jarvis said. “They’ve already stated that they’re having problems getting their projects bid. Their projects aren’t large enough to adequately get bid. They have residents just like our residents and their residents are just as important as our residents. Yeah, we’re playing big brother, but you know, we are big brother.”
Teresa Owens, Andersonville city clerk, said that 30,000 to 35,000 tourists come through her city. “Where do they eat? If they stay, they stay in Americus,” Owens said. “They eat in Americus. They buy gas in Americus. Americus is getting revenue off of the smaller towns as well.” Blount responded that he would go with the $9,137,500 (42.5 percent) to be allocated to Americus as outlined in the gold proposal. Jarvis said that the decision as to which proposal to go with must be made by April 15.
There was also discussion about what type of communications system the county and its municipalities would go with. Michael Nix of the Georgia Emergency Management Homeland Security Agency gave a presentation on the pros and cons of both the VHF Digital radio system and the 700-800 MHZ radio system.
Commissioner Waddell pointed out that whether or not the cities go to a VHF digital system or a 700-800 MHZ system will have a major effect on what they will do as far as SPLOST funding is concerned, which will also have an effect on what the county decides to do. “The county staff were not willing to go with the 700-800 MHZ system. They wanted to stay with the digital,” Waddell said. “If we did that, what is the city of Americus going to do? Go with the 800 MHZ?”
County Co-Administrator Volley asked Mayor Blount if he had decided to accept the gold proposal. “We will go with the gold,” Blount replied.
It was agreed upon by all parties involved to tentatively agree on the gold proposal.