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County starts to set priorities for next SPLOST
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Effingham County voters likely will have renewing the one-cent special purpose local option sales tax on the ballot in the November.

Officials are projecting taking in $70 million under a renewed SPLOST. Under SPLOST, counties and cities can accomplish capital projects, such as the construction of buildings, roads and bridges, recreation facilities and water and sewer infrastructure.

The current SPLOST, approved in 2010, expires June 30, 2017. Representatives from the county and the three municipalities met last month and agreed to apportion the projected SPLOST revenues based on population. By basing the SPLOST proceeds split on population, the penny tax will be extended five years. An intergovernmental agreement between the county and cities could have led to a seven-year SPLOST.

The current SPLOST was passed by a margin of 54.3 percent-45.7 percent.

“I hope the citizens will vote for it,” Chairman Wendall Kessler said. “What I don’t want is for that number to be too high and I don’t want it to be too low so that at some point, by the grace of God we’ve collected that number and we have to stop it.”

If the SPLOST intake reaches the projected level before the five years is up, the tax stops automatically.

Over the first 44 months of the current five-year SPLOST, approximately $28 million has been collected. Of that, $16 million was directed toward construction of the new county jail. The jail was determined to be a tier 1 project, a countywide benefit, and County Administrator Toss Allen said the only tier 1 project the county commission could undertake is a new administrative building.

Under the proposed percentage splits, the county will direct the bulk of its SPLOST proceeds, 60 percent, to roads and bridges. Vehicles and equipment will get 13 percent of the county’s SPLOST take, and recreation will receive 9.5 percent. The county will be building a new central recreation complex off Highway 21 and Ralph Rahn Road, with SPLOST expected to foot most of the costs.

The county is anticipating collecting more than 74 percent of the total of the renewed SPLOST proceeds, or around $52 million. With 60 percent allotted for roads and bridges, the county could have more than $31 million from a new SPLOST for that outlay, should the receipts hit projections.

County commissioners and staff have discussed priorities and needs to be done under SPLOST’s backing. While the middle section of the animal shelter is in good shape, Allen said, but the back section has no heat or air and the floors are in poor condition. The county is building a new fleet maintenance shelter but may add more pole barns to protect more equipment from the weather.

Among other items on a possible to-do list are information technology hardware improvements and a document management solution.

“At some point, we’re going to have to do that,” Allen said.

SPLOST also is expected to fund new sheriff’s office vehicles, 15 a year over the next five years for a total of $1.875 million, and possible upgrades to the 911 tower. The county also has remounted several ambulances, but Allen pointed out that can be done only so many times over the life of an ambulance. Effingham’s fire department also may need a ladder truck and four new engines, some of which will be placed at new and relocated fire stations.

The county also may need to replace its radios by 2020. Those items are expected to be obsolete, with the manufacturer no longer providing support. The county has 300 radios, costing from $5,000-$7,000 each. Replacement of radios is pegged at $2 million.

“They’ll work,” Allen said, “but we won’t get parts for them.”

County officials also may look into putting a booster station at the Chatham County line, and is slotting cost of a booster station at $750,000. Even if the county gets a well in what is called the green zone, it still may be required to use surface water provided by Savannah Industrial and Domestic Water, Allen said.

“The system will still be down there, and we’ll still have pressure issues,” he said. “We’re going to have to look at that.”

The county is running out of capacity at its sprayfield, with a permit of 479,000 gallons per day and nearly 400,000 gallons per day being used.

“We have to make some expansions and improvements soon,” Allen said.

With roadwork taking up the bulk of the projected SPLOST spending, several items could be accomplished with the additional penny tax, officials pointed out. The county is looking at Old Augusta Road phase 3, the section from just past Rincon-Stillwell Road to Highway 275. On the books is a new curve at the intersection of McCall and Blue Jay roads, and improvements to Goshen Road may need to be done.

“We have plans, we don’t have funding,” Allen said. “It may have to become necessary because traffic will increase tremendously on that road. It’s something we need to keep on the radar for funding.”

The county also is expected to continue ash road repairs and currently spends about $2 million annually on resurfacing, and ash road repair could total $8 million additionally over five years.

Approximately $8 million may be set aside for the Effingham Parkway. The state has pledged $44 million toward the project, which has an anticipated price tag of $52 million.

Current SPLOST dollars will spearhead the work on the central rec complex first phase. Under the percentage allocation, recreation stands to gain nearly $5 million from a re-approved SPLOST, which could help complete the second phase. That step will consist of six baseball/softball fields, four multi-purpose fields, parking and lighting, among other amenities. SPLOST funding for Phase 2 of the central rec complex is projected to be $4.9 million. A walking trail at Sand Hill Park also is on the SPLOST wish list.

Effingham resident Peggy Tuttle has recommended to the board of education and the commissioners a performing arts or civic center be included.

“We have a large population of students in our county who are in the performing arts,” she said. “These students don’t have a stadium they can perform their art at adequately. It is not conducive to a large program. Our band at South Effingham barely fits on the stage. The county is growing. There is a large cultural base here. I think the rec center is fantastic. There is also the arts that needs to be considered, too.”

How big it should be and where to put such a facility, Tuttle said she didn’t know. The county’s SPLOST proposed allocation has nearly $3.4 million for public buildings.

“I go to band concerts in this county and other counties. I hear this from other places,” Kessler said.

Georgia Southern University’s Performing Arts Center has a capacity of 825, while the Lucas Theatre in Savannah seats about 1,200 and the Trustees Theatre has a capacity of approximately 1,100. Liberty County Board of Education has a performing arts center, having taken over the Brewton-Parker College campus just outside of Hinesville that closed.