Committees to oversee SPLOST projects

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

The county government will form several committees to oversee SPLOST 2011 projects.

Chairman Kathy Morgan recommended, and the Board of Commissioners gave informal approval, to the formation of the committees at a work session Monday night. Morgan said the committees would formulate a plan of action for the projects as well as keep track of available and spent funding. She proposed that two commissioners and a county staff member join community members who have knowledge about or will be directly involved in each project. Each committee will report to the BOC.

"I do want to see the projects tracked," she said, noting that there have been conflicting presentations at times regarding projects from the 2005 SPLOST. She added that she is investigating project management software to help with that.

Morgan recommended having a liaison to the Newton Medical Center Hospital Authority regarding the emergency room expansion rather than a committee. The BOC will serve as the committee on transportation projects. Not all projects will need a committee. For example, the $100,000 allocated to Animal Control is for improvements to the existing facility and can likely be handled by Administrative Officer John Middleton, she said.

The $57.6 million in projected revenues will come in over a six-year period, at an estimated rate of $9.6 million annually, the exception being this year and the final year, 2017, in which collections are for six months, and should bring $4.8 million. The money will be distributed on a pro rata basis. Transportation projects will receive the largest percentage of funds, at 30 percent, or $2.88 million a year, followed by the Judicial Center expansion at 12.15 percent, or $1.16 million a year. If revenues exceed or don't meet projections, the projects will still be allocated funds based on pro rata shares.

Middleton reminded commissioners that all engineering, architectural and legal fees will have to paid out of the amount allocated and there is no additional funding for those expenses. Commissioner Nancy Schulz said she's concerned about maintenance and operation costs.

"My biggest concern is we'd be moving forward with a building and then can't open it or can't staff it," she said, citing the new branch library, which opened without adequate resources.

Morgan said once the committees have a more firm idea of the scope of each project, they should be able to make M&O estimates.

County Engineer Tom Garrett also presented a list of SPLOST 2011 transportation priorities. Nearly $17.3 million will be allocated for transportation projects over the six-year life of the SPLOST. Work will begin this year on several projects, including Airport and Crowell roads, where the Board of Education is building new schools. Also scheduled for this year is the resurfacing of Cameron's Landing and Laurel Ridge subdivisions, along with some work on Mt. Tabor bridge. Though these projects will begin this year, the work on some will be phased out over the span of several years as funds become available.

A permanent repair to Crowell Road, where flooding has occurred several times, is a high priority, but could be taken off the SPLOST list altogether as it appears to qualify for impact fee dollars, Morgan said. If officials verify that the $2 million project can be funded with impact fees, that would free up some additional money to get started earlier on other SPLOST projects, she said.

Either way, Crowell Road must get fixed soon.

"A flood is all it's going to take ... this is a bomb ticking," Morgan said.

In related news, though it's still unofficial, it appears the county will exceed projections for SPLOST 2005. Collections were estimated at $58.8 million, and Middleton reported the unofficial final number at $61,659,849.

"I want to thank you for your conservative projections and for keeping us on the straight and narrow all these years," Ewing said to Middleton, noting that many Georgia counties fell short of SPLOST projections.

The majority of projects for SPLOST 2005 have been completed or nearly completed, Morgan said. The exception is the downtown civic center, which has not been started due to lack of funding. A total of $5 million in SPLOST revenues was allocated. The county has five years after the expiration of SPLOST to complete the project or let the voters decide how to re-allocate those funds.

The first phase of renovation of the historic jail is finished, with SPLOST 2011 to cover the remainder. A few transportation projects are still unfinished, including the paving of Gaither Road, repairs to Edwards and Oak Hill bridges, as well as the Ga. Highway 81 and Crowell Road intersection. Morgan said the county is $1.1 million short on revenues for transportation and is seeking federal funds for some of the projects and trying to find ways to reduce the cost so they can be completed. The excess in collections can only go to pay down county debt, as stipulated in the resolution passed prior to passage of the 2005 SPLOST.

Widening of Henderson Mill Road remains untouched, and though the project has been mandated by the DOT, the board has purposefully delayed the project because right of way would go to the front door of Henderson's Restaurant, eliminating parking. DOT has sent a letter saying the county must report whether it intends to move forward and if not, DOT will, Morgan said.