Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown recently outlined preliminary details of the proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which is planned to go before voters in November 2016.
He did this during the Liberty County Community-wide Planning Workshop 2015 Mid-Year Review, which took place Nov. 13 at the Performing Arts Center. County and city leaders reviewed initiatives discussed at an April planning workshop on St. Simons Island.
At the April workshop, leaders chose three topics to tackle this year: SPLOST, business development and branding the county.
Brown said the Board of Commissioners has discussed road priorities, how to allocate funds and how to use the proceeds from SPLOST.
“When SPLOST came out in the mid-’80s, it was primarily used on roads,” he said. “Things were changed, things were added. It was still restrictive, but it was primarily roads. So they’re focusing back on roads. The other things they have discussed, after hearing it from the public, maybe some desire to retire some bonded debt that’s out there. The Justice Center, City Hall, the public works in Hinesville, the MidCoast Regional Airport all were built with bonded debt with the anticipation of future SPLOST tax to pay those off.”
He said the anticipated revenue, if SPLOST is passed in 2016, is estimated to be $55 million over six years. Retiring the bonded debt would take about $36 million. No final decision has been made, and the commissioners will continue to hold meetings for input.
Brown said that the commissioners also are looking at ways to simplify the language on ballot questions. There will be meetings held with all the municipalities before a final ballot question is formulated.
Brown said that whether SPLOST passes or not in 2016, there are issues that need to be addressed in the coming year, one of which is replacing the equipment at the 911 center. The equipment has been at the center since the early 1990s and is going out of service. Brown said the cost to replace the equipment will be about $3 million.
“The commission is having to make some arrangements after the first of the year to try to finance that. It’s a have-to-do item,” he said, later adding, “There’s stuff that everyone in this room needs to have. There’s stuff we’ve got to make arrangements to buy and, unfortunately without SPLOST, we’ve got to make arrangements for them.”
Brown went on to discuss the county’s tax digest. The county’s digest fell because it picked up $44 million worth of exemptions.
“Forty-four million (dollars) lost in the community. Is that because of housing? No, it is not,” he said. “Five million (dollars) of that alone was exemptions based on disabled veterans preference. We’re in that community. That’s good, but the community has to recognize that there has to be an offset, and property taxes cannot be the offset.”
Brown encouraged leaders to attend meetings about SPLOST so they can educate others.
“The ones that voted against it (SPLOST) are going to vote,” he said. “The thing that disappoints me about that is that they’re not putting out factual information. I can’t tell you the number of people we’ve run into since that time who said, ‘Well, if I had really known that,’ or, ‘That’s not what I heard.’ Don’t believe what you hear. Get knowledge, and we’ll have more avenues to do that. If you’re not sure, then get the right answer.”
Jeff Ricketson, the executive director of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, discussed business development. He said the past year has been good time commercial development — particularly retail — in the county.
After the workshop in April, the Mayor’s Small Business Conference bought together available resources for small businesses.
“Most of the people that came and presented would be available to anyone in Liberty County as a whole,” Ricketson said. “The conclusion is that there are a lot of resources available for small businesses.”
Ricketson said many have heard that it’s hard to start a business in Liberty County. The LCPC put together a survey asking business owners about their experience in starting their business.
He said more specific information is needed as to why some people think Liberty is not the best place to start a business. Four hundred businesses — the total number of people with business licenses — were contacted to participate in the survey.
Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette asked if there can be separate business guides — one for those starting a home-based business, one for small business and one for big corporations. Leah Poole, the CEO of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Chamber put together a guide in 2008 but will revamp the guide after the results of the survey.
Poole discussed the various ways the Chamber and CVB are promoting the county and incorporating Liberty’s brand “The Right Blend.” The logo has been featured on the CVB/Chamber website, libertycounty.org, at trade shows and conventions, and on giveaway items such as hats, bags and picnic blankets.
Poole said outside writers, photographers and bloggers have visited the county and shared their experiences with their audiences. For example, a popular German radio personality visited Geechee Kunda.
The Chamber and CVB are working on a community-wide texting system that will send information and reminders about the bigger local events, such as the Scarecrow Stroll and Beggars Night. People will be able to sign up to receive texts and reply.
Poole said that it will not act as a mass text message, in which people can see each other’s replies. Rather, replies would be sent to a Chamber or CVB email.