Works in Progress

Buzz

As one set of SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) projects ends, another SPLOST proposal begins.

The final list of 2023-28 SPLOST projects will appear on the November 8 General Election ballot for approval by voters, and the Columbia County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve that list at its second meeting in July to ready the proposal for the ballot.

Last month the county held four open houses – one in each district – to present proposed projects to the community. County representatives were on hand at these informal listening sessions to discuss the projects and to garner more feedback from county residents.

The tentative list of projects, totaling $270 million over the life of the SPLOST, was compiled through previous input from residents as well as observations of county commissioners and staff members.

The projects cover improvements to parks and recreation facilities, public safety and emergency services, information technology and broadband, transportation, stormwater, buildings and economic development.

Transportation projects include upgrades to the Evans Town Center intersection, North Belair Road improvements and improvements to the Horizon South – Chamblin Road connector.

Other proposals include Greenway connections, the replacement of fire engines, improvements to the sheriff’s training facility, installation of camera systems, Reed Creek bank stabilization, Columbia County Community Connections expansion and property acquisition for economic development.

“As the population of the county grows, we see where our infrastructure needs are,” says Scott Johnson, county manager.

He says about 34% of the funds would be earmarked for cultural and recreational projects, 15% would go toward public safety and 20-25% would fund stormwater and transportation projects.

Of the SPLOST monies, $7 million would be allocated to Harlem and $24 million would be allocated to Grovetown.

A vocal contingent of residents have advocated for the construction of an aquatics center, which was not on the proposed list of projects. However, a questionnaire, which the county gave to attendees at the meetings to indicate their priorities, specifically addressed the construction and upkeep of an aquatics center.

While SPLOST funds could be used to construct an aquatics center, maintenance and operation costs, estimated at $1 million annually, would have to come from taxpayers in the form of an indefinite increase of their property taxes.

“SPLOST gets an up or down vote. If it fails because of one controversial project, Columbia County would go an entire year without the sales tax,” says Johnson.

In 2008, he says, voters rejected a separate proposal to build an aquatics center, but SPLOST passed. “We’re in a similar situation now,” he says.

If voters approve SPLOST in November, the county sales tax rate will remain at 8%. It will drop to 7% if the measure does not pass.