The Liberty County Board of Commissioners met again to discuss the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum planned for November and the proposed list of projects it would fund if passed.
Some of the commissioners agreed at a called meeting Feb. 29 that the main selling point of SPLOST VI should be paying off half the debts on the Liberty County Justice Center and MidCoast Regional Airport at Wright Airfield. Half the Justice Center debt is around $8.18 million and half the MidCoast debt, after refinancing, is around $4.74 million.
Commissioner Justin Frasier again advocated for a family entertainment center project to be added to the list of SPLOST projects. He said residents need a project to rally behind, and he feels that an entertainment center will allow people to spend more of their disposable income in the county.
Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette said he supports the concept of a family entertainment center but thinks that type of project, could be done through a public-private partnership and not with SPLOST funds.
“We have to regain the people’s confidence on SPLOST, and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that,” Lovette said. “I feel right now that is something that might cause us some issues. I agree with the concept because of the population base — you’re right. I’m not sure the place to do it is this round of SPLOST.”
Frasier said other counties had entertainment centers on their SPLOST referendums and those passed. He gave an example of speaking to a commissioner in Camden County who was skeptical about passing SPLOST in his own county. Frasier said those commissioners put a project on the referendum for improvements to their football stadium and gained community support. He said that SPLOST referendum passed.
“When we look at these projects, what is our anchor project? That we’re going to pay off the debt?” Frasier asked. “That we’re sorry that we spent so much money on the Justice Center? Then we’re going to have to come to you the next round of SPLOST and pay off the other half? Is that a selling tool?”
Lovette and other commissioners answered, “Yes.”
Lovette said he is hearing positive feedback from people in the community about the idea of SPLOST paying off debts. He feels that once people are confident in SPLOST, then there will be an opportunity to fund different projects — such as the family entertainment center — in other rounds of SPLOST.
Commissioners discussed SPLOST funding for different entities and projects.
One of the countywide road projects is an intersection realignment at Ryon Avenue and Oglethorpe Highway at the entrance to Bryant Commons. Commissioner Connie Thrift asked why that project was under countywide and not the city of Hinesville. Commissioners suggested taking that project off the countywide projects list and reallocating the money to either the commissioners’ district road money or another project. County Administrator Joey Brown suggested that some of those funds go toward a road median project in Walthourville. The median would run along Dunlevie Road from Oglethorpe Highway to E.B. Cooper Highway. He said it’s important to have the median to limit truck traffic on Dunlevie Road after the Highway 119 Freight Connector, aka the proposed Hinesville bypass, is constructed.
Thrift asked if the connecter will be constructed in six years. Brown said property acquisition is supposed to start within two years and that the project is listed in the budget for the Georgia Department of Transportation for fiscal-year 2019.
Commissioner Gary Gilliard made the point that all the commissioners except Marion Stevens have districts that include parts of Hinesville. Gilliard suggested reducing the SPLOST funding for Hinesville’s road money because the city will have more money through the commissioners. Lovette agreed and told Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin to change the suggested $6.48 million amount of road money to $6 million.
Stevens proposed putting the funds that were cut into drainage projects.
Commissioners continued to talk about other projects, including a manufacturers’ laboratory for Savannah Technical College and gym renovations at the Liberty County Community Complex in Midway.
Lovette said that by the time the commissioners meet with other stakeholders, the proposed SPLOST project list can change.
There will be a stakeholders meeting with municipalities and their councils at 6 p.m. March 28 in the Board of Commissioners meeting room in the Courthouse Annex.