Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette and County Administrator Joey Brown met with five Liberty county mayors Wednesday to review what was meant to be a finalized list of funds to be allocated for road and building projects if voters pass the November referendum for a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Mayors attending the meeting included Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, Walthourville Mayor Daisy Pray, Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington, Riceboro Mayor William Austin and Allenhurst Mayor Thomas Hines. Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards and Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard, as well as Hinesville CFO Kim Ryon and Liberty County CFO Kim McGlothlin, also were on hand to respond to and ask questions.
“The list you have here is pretty much the same as the last one, except that we had to make some adjustments for road money,” Brown said. “The road money is distributed by the same percentage as the local option sales tax, which is according to population. We had to decrease the amount for capital-improvement projects so we could disperse money for roads in Allenhurst and Gum Branch.”
According to the revised project list, Allenhurst would receive $147,609, and Gum Branch would receive $52,391. He said they estimate SPLOST 6 would generate about $54 million over six years. Thomas asked how they came up with that projection, noting the current trend of growth in this area should allow for a higher amount. Brown said the county received two estimated projections, one for $55.5 million and one for $53.5 million. He said they decided on a figure in between while leaning toward a more conservative estimate.
Thomas asked if municipalities and the county were constrained to allocate funds only for the projects on the list if the collected amount is more than projected. He also wanted to know whether city leaders have the authority re-allocate funds from one SPLOST project to another.
Attorney Jim Pannell, who was there to assist with developing the intergovernmental agreement between the county and city governments, said if local leaders want to completely abandon a SPLOST project, they have to go back to the voters to decide what to do with those funds. Liberty County Attorney Kelly Davis said he believes the leaders are allowed some discretion about allocation of funds for SPLOST projects, but they cannot use SPLOST funds for a non-SPLOST project.
Howard asked how county leaders came up with the $816,000 figure for a county-event center, noting the multipurpose center is a $7.5 million project.
“That’s all the money we had left,” Brown said, explaining they knew there would not be enough SPLOST funds to pay for all the projects that everyone wants.
Since the event center would benefit the entire county, Lovette said Hinesville and Liberty County would have to work together to pay for the project. The money allocated would at least allow for planning and design for the center, he said.
Austin asked about the $3.1 million being allocated for recreation, saying there is a greater need for a new well to be drilled in Riceboro. He explained that Riceboro provides water to Chemtall, a major labor force in the county. He said the state’s Environmental Protection Division will not allow them to pump additional water from either of those wells, and yet, Chemtall wants to expand. Austin said if Chemtall cannot get the additional water, they’ll take that new operation to one of their other facilities. He said that would be a loss of job opportunities for the entire county.
A question then was posed to Howard about whether the Liberty County Recreation Department really needs the $3.1 million.
“If you give us $3.1 million, we can use $3.1 million,” Howard said. “We can use even more than that, because we have a lot of projects we’d like to do for the community.”
The mayors and county leaders said they want to support Riceboro but decided to keep the list as-is. They suggested Austin contact the Liberty County Development Authority about the well. They also noted that $1 million is on the list to assist with economic development.
Brown said the goal of Thursday’s meeting was to get everyone’s approval for the finalized list. He suggested a SPLOST team meet at 5:30 p.m. June 5 to approve the list and start developing the intergovernmental agreement.