The city and county have yet to meet and come up with an agreement on how a proposed penny sales tax continuation should be divvied up, but the county knows what they want.
At a special called meeting last week, the Bacon County commissioners unanimously approved a $6.9 million spending plan for a 2018 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The plan calls for the money to be collected over a period of six years and requires an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Alma.
Only counties have the authority to call for a SPLOST referendum. Once a county government decides to call for a SPLOST they are required to notify the municipalities in the county and hold a joint meeting with them to come to an agreement on how the sales tax money will be spent.
Only certain types of projects are eligible under the law for SPLOST funding, mainly capital outlay projects such as road improvements, public building construction or improvements, and hospital projects. Maintenance and operations expenditures of SPLOST funds are illegal.
The law provides two methods for determining the distribution of SPLOST funds and the selection of SPLOST projects: 1.) through an intergovernmental agreement, or 2.) a division based on population.
Entering into an intergovernmental agreement can provide significant benefits to both the county and to the cities involved in the SPLOST and the law provides for certain incentives to encourage cities and counties to enter into the agreements.
First, if a county and the cities in the county sign an intergovernmental agreement for the use of SPLOST proceeds, the SPLOST can be imposed for a maximum of six years rather than for a maximum of five years. This additional year can save local governments significant costs by delaying a future SPLOST call for an extra year. Further, it makes more revenue available for capital expenditures, thereby allowing more projects to be funded.
Second, if the county and cities enter into an intergovernmental agreement for the use of SPLOST proceeds, the tax may be collected for the full six years regardless of when and if projects are fully funded at an earlier time. Excess funds, if any, would be used to retire county debt or placed in the county general fund to roll back property taxes.
Both the Bacon County commissioners and the Alma city council are hoping to reach agreement in the next couple of weeks and use the first method, as they have in the past.
Bacon County Commission Chairman Andy Hutto says the county is ready to deal with either eventuality.
At last week’s meeting, the commissioners approved a list of projects which would give the city $1.5 million for its projects, the hospital $500,000 for Twin Oaks renovations, $2 million to the county road department, $600,000 for public buildings, $575,000 to the sheriff’s department, $450,000 to the county development authority, $350,000 for ambulance purchases, $200,000 each for the recreation and fire departments, $200,000 to be spent on county technology infrastructure and computers, $175,000 to be spent on the airport, $50,000 each for the county shop and the clerk of the court’s office, and $25,000 each for the election and tax commissioner offices.
The City of Alma was hoping for more. At their council meeting earlier this month, they hoped for a $7.2 million SPLOST total with 32 percent, or about $230,000, coming their way.
The last SPLOST, which began in 2012, was collected under an intergovernmental agreement between the city and county, with several joint projects, and a 68 (county) 32 (city) split of the balance.
“Times have changed,” Chairman Hutto said last week. “We can’t give the city 32 percent this time.”
He noted the 2012 SPLOST included $1 million in funding for what was, essentially, a city project — the establishment of a sewage treatment plant spray field.
“No one in the unincorporated areas of the county uses the sewage treatment plant,” Hutto said. “It was really a city only project. We had to put county projects on hold over the last several years because we didn’t have the funds to do them the way the  SPLOST was set up.”
The chairman says the county intends to “take care of some shortfalls from the last SPLOST” with this new one.
“We hope we can come to an agreement with the city and have a six year SPLOST,” Hutto said, “but if we cannot reach an agreement, we’ll move forward with the five year [population-based] method.”
“The county is in charge of the SPLOST. It is a county responsibility to call for a SPLOST. The city can’t do it on their own. We all would lose if we can’t come to an agreement.”
Based on the current collections from the 2012 SPLOST, the loss to the city and county could easily exceed $1 million.
“We all need the SPLOST,” Hutto said. “Our needs — both the city’s and the county’s — are so much greater than we can afford without raising property taxes. We need to pass this SPLOST.”