The Liberty County Board of Commissioners discussed building a fire station in Holmestown during a recent capital improvement program budget meeting for fiscal-year 2017.
County Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin and County Administrator Joey Brown compiled a list of projects for commissioners to review at their Feb. 18 meeting. Projects were divided into three categories: urgent (items needed within the next year), necessary (items that can possibly wait), and growth-related (projects that will require further upgrades and expansion over time).
Commissioners looked at the proposed projects without accounting for Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax or grant funds. Voters rejected SPLOST in 2014 and it expired March 31, and commissioners plan to have a new SPLOST on the ballot this November.
Urgent items included vehicles for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, a roof replacement for the Road Department’s building and a new ambulance. Necessary items included dump trucks, flooring for the Stafford Pavilion and resurfacing the parking lot at Troop Park. Growth-related items included shelving for the records center, phone-system upgrade and phase 2 of Fleming Park.
The Holmestown fire station was originally marked for fiscal 2017 as urgent at an $800,000 cost, but was later moved to fiscal 2019.
Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette asked why the fire station was delayed.
“I don’t think we as a county are in position to know how we’re going to fund it, man it and man the operation even if we do build it,” McGlothlin said.
She added that even if SPLOST passes, the station could not be built within 12 months unless an advance loan were taken out against anticipated SPLOST revenue.
Brown said funds for the fire station “would come out of the general fund with a mileage assessment, or fire fund, spelled out in the taxes.” He said other counties have funded fire-station operations through a fire fee on the property tax bill.
Holmestown is currently covered by fire stations in Lake George, Fleming and Midway.
“We still have an obligation to provide fire service, and I don’t want us to do it haphazardly, but I think putting it in 2018 is kicking the ball too far down the road,” Lovette said.
Brown pointed out that fiscal 2018 starts in July 2017.
“We could not put it on this next round of tax bills that’s going to go out in January (2017) because it did not appear on the assessment notices for this year,” Brown said. “So you will not be able to assess any revenue for it through fee or tax until January 2018.”
McGlothlin suggested that the county could start building the fire station sometime after July, then possibly get a fire fee or fire millage on assessment notices for when bills are sent out at the end of 2017.
With that option, Brown said the county would receive those revenues in January 2018 and start the hiring process to staff the station. McGlothin said the biggest challenge would be to determine the level of service to provide knowing that property owners would be charged a fee.
In response to a question by Commissioner Connie Thrift, McGlothlin said property owners in the area served by the fire station would most likely be charged. The problem with that, she said, is the area’s small number of homes, meaning the fee would be high. Brown said if it’s done as a millage rate, the fee would be based on home’s assessed value.
Brown said that if SPLOST passes, the fee would be reduced.
McGlothlin said she would list the fire station under fiscal 2018.
Lovette asked if the county would be able to continue construction on Fleming Park.
Brown said the area has been cleaned up and a retention pond installed. He said major improvements will have to be funded with SPLOST, the general fund or grants.
Brown added that overlaying 4.25 miles of road would cost $807,925.
The total cost of capital improvement projects for fiscal 2017 is budgeted at $3.1 million. McGlothlin told commissioners that they are not committed to funding the entire CIP budget.
Instead, when they adopt the general-fund budget in June for fiscal 2017, they can refer to the CIP budget and decide which projects can be paid from the general fund, which ones to cut or move to another year.