Two different plans for projects that would be funded should voters approve a new Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax were presented at a stakeholders meeting Monday evening with local officials.
The SPLOST VI referendum will go before voters in November. The Liberty County Board of Commissioners and municipalities and governing authorities in the county have to agree on the proposed project list for the referendum.
The county estimates that SPLOST will generate $54 million over six years.
One plan presented by the Board of Commissioners shows a project list and would pay half the debts of the Justice Center and MidCoast Regional Airport at Wright Army Airfield. The debts would be completely paid over two rounds of SPLOST, or 12 years.
Commissioners Gary Gilliard and Justin Frasier presented another proposal that would extend the debts of those two already-completed projects and the Hinesville City Hall over three rounds of SPLOST, or 18 years, which would allow more funds for new projects in the county and municipalities and other organizations.
"We want to put together a referendum that’s all-inclusive," Gilliard said. "The original plan was to extend the debt and pay for some of it throughout. We should stick to that plan. If you spend money on those two projects (paying half the debts of the Justice Center and airport), that eliminates room for any other thing."
Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin asked why the debt could not be spread over an extended period. Lovette said some residents expressed the desire to pay off some of the debts. Austin asked for data supporting that the majority of residents want the debt paid off. Others in the room said aloud that they heard this through conversations in the community.
At the beginning of the meeting, representatives from municipalities, Savannah Technical College, the Liberty County Development Authority, Dorchester Academy and Liberty Regional Medical Center presented their funding needs and project priorities that they want to be included on the SPLOST project list.
Dr. Kathy Love, the president of Savannah Tech, discussed building a Precision Manufacturing Center at the STC Liberty Campus. She said there is a big demand in the area for manufacturing practices. Love said the current campus was built with funds from SPLOST, and the local buy-in encouraged the state to contribute funds towards construction. Love asked for a local buy-in of $500,000 for the manufacturing center.
LCDA CEO Ron Tolley requested $1.57 million to pave 3,300 feet of Sunbury Road at Tradeport East to serve a large site area. Tolley said that the unpaved portion of the road was one of the reasons why the county lost the bid for Beretta, a firearms manufacturer.
Tolley said the project bid was competitive between Liberty County and a Tennessee county. The Tennessee county had infrastructure in place and a paved road. The state of Tennessee also provided incentives to Beretta, whereas the state of Georgia provided incentives to LCDA to pave the road, not to Beretta. Tolley said this made the Tennessee county more attractive to Beretta. He said that paving the road will encourage other companies to come into the area.
LRMC CEO Michael Hester asked for $1 million to build a clinic at Tradeport East. The hospital has already purchased more than 2 acres. Hester said there is a tremendous need for health care on the east side of the county.
Austin, who is also the president of the Dorchester Improvement Association, requested $375,000 for restoration projects at the historical site and to redesign the museum. Austin said Dorchester Academy is the only National Historic Landmark in the county and has the potential of drawing more visitors.
Walthourville Mayor Daisy Pray requested around $700,000 for a new fire station, other facilities and to pave roads. Walthourville has more than 21 miles of dirt road. Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington discussed constructing a new city hall complex with upgrades to the fire station and Police Department, road improvements and acquisition of property for the city hall. Flemington City Council members mentioned needing more funds for roads. Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown and City Manager Billy Edwards said they have not yet discussed specific projects for Hinesville.
Gilliard said his and Frasier’s plan would allow for more money to be given to the municipalities and organizations compared with the plan formed by general consensus of the Board of Commissioners.
Included in Gilliard and Frasier’s plan is a "revenue-generating community project" for $2.5 million. Frasier, who has been an advocate for a family entertainment center, talked about the project’s ability to "enhance the quality of life for the average citizen and stop the leakage" of residents leaving Liberty County to spend their money elsewhere. He believes this can be a project that the residents will rally behind and questioned whether paying debt was a strong enough selling point.
Lovette said the Hinesville Development Authority is ready to move forward with pursuing a family entertainment center. He feels that the project should not be on the SPLOST ballot, and that a private company can build the center. Frasier disagreed, saying that the county can control pricing, ensuring that it’s affordable to citizens. Other people in the room started speaking at once and talking over each other, saying that a private company would take the risks associated with building the center, like loss of profit and debt, instead of the county.
Lovette said the commissioners will go back and talk about the two plan proposals.
At the beginning of the meeting, County Attorney Kelly Davis talked about an intergovernmental agreement for the county and municipalities to sign discussing how to allocate excess SPLOST proceeds. Davis said that in the past, an agreement has always been reached. Without an agreement, excess proceeds are required to pay down debt, he said.
An agreement allows the parties to discuss how they want to use the extra money, which has traditionally been allocated based on population size. County Administrator Joey Brown said the extra money has also been allocated based on project priorities and size.