Barrow County voters will decide this fall whether to continue the countywide 1-cent special-purpose local-option sales tax for another six years once the current one expires.
The county board of commissioners voted Tuesday, Aug. 24, to call the referendum and place it on the Nov. 2 ballot. If approved, the tax is projected to generate another $120.8 million over the six-year period, which will go toward various capital-improvement projects in the unincorporated portions of the county and within the county’s municipalities’ corporate limits. The county and the City of Winder, representing the municipalities, also have agreed to an intergovernmental agreement, approved by the BOC and the Winder City Council, that allows for a six-year collection period for “SPLOST 2023” — rather than the five-year period for SPLOST 2018 — and for the entities to collect more than the projected $120.8 million to be listed in the referendum if collections exceed that mark within the six-year frame.
County and municipal leaders have pushed in recent months to bring another SPLOST referendum to voters this November due to projections that SPLOST 2018 will hit its designated $56.6 million collection mark several months early, either in late 2022 or 2023. With the IGA in place, if the SPLOST 2023 referendum were approved, collections would essentially continue uninterrupted. If voters were to reject the measure on the ballot, it could not be placed on the ballot again for one year, and it’s currently unclear whether a November 2022 vote in favor by the voters would be done in enough time to keep collections from being interrupted.
Large majorities of county voters have voted for the 1-cent SPLOST the last three times it has appeared on the ballot, and, if approved, the 2023 one would result in by far the largest SPLOST haul for the local governments in the county.
Of the projected $120.8 million in collections, an estimated $38.6 million would be set aside for an expansion of the county’s detention center and judicial courthouse. The remaining more than $82 million would be split for use by the county and municipal governments on roughly a population basis with the county receiving 62.5% and the cities a combined 37.5%.
With its extra money — a projected $51.5 million — the county plans to spend:
•$15 million in road, street, bridge and sidewalk and other transportation-related projects.
•$15 million in equipment purchases to include 911 system upgrades, vehicles, technology, software and voting equipment.
•$6.5 million on paying down Bear Creek water reservoir bond debt.
•$5 million each in fire safety equipment and facilities as well as parks and recreation facilities and equipment.
•$2 million each on county facility projects and improvements as well as water system projects and improvements.
•and $1 million on sewer system projects and improvements.
The remaining roughly $30.5 million or so would be distributed to the municipalities as follows:
•$17.7 million to Winder, with the city planning to spend a little more of a quarter of those collections (26%) on road and transportation-related projects. The rest of the money would be split between stormwater infrastructure (15%), administrative facilities and equipment (15%), police department facilities and equipment (12%), fire department facilities and equipment (12%), parks and rec and related projects (10%), and sanitation and solid waste facilities and equipment (10%).
•$8.5 million to Auburn, with $4 million going toward paying down debt on the city’s future municipal complex, which is scheduled to open next summer, $1.8 million for transportation projects and $1.3 million for parks and rec. The rest would be split between stormwater infrastructure ($500,000) and $300,000 each for police and public safety facilities and equipment, city facilities and equipment, and water and sewer capital improvements and related facilities.
•$3.5 million to Statham, with nearly all of it going toward water and sewer infrastructure improvements, facilities and equipment. The city proposes to spend $100,000 each on stormwater capital improvements and transportation-related projects.
•$1.75 million to Braselton for parks and recreation.
•$708,000 to Bethlehem for transportation-related and stormwater improvement projects.
•and $231,000 to Carl for transportation-related improvements.
Also under the IGA, the municipalities would collect 40% of the initial proceeds with the remaining 60% being set aside for the “justice center” expansion. Without an IGA in place, the cities would have to wait an estimated two years until all of the money for the expansion project was collected.