By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Push to extend SPLOST gets a kickoff
Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown
Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown

As early voting for the November elections approaches, one campaign kicked off Tuesday morning.

The special purpose local option sales tax will be on the ballot, and officials hope that if it passes, it will raise $69 million over the next six years.

“Being a growth community, there is no way that we can do all that we need to do with general tax funds,” said Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette.

Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown pointed out to a Liberty County Chamber of Commerce gathering that SPLOST money cannot go toward such measures as paying salaries, nor can it fund day-to-day operations. While it cannot go toward a government’s electric bill, he said, it can pay for new air conditioning units atop the Charles Shuman Gym at James Brown Park.

“It can replace those critical capital items that otherwise, the tax base would have to pick up,” Brown said.

Since SPLOST’s inception in Liberty County, it has funded about $165 million of capital improvements, Brown noted. The bulk, $73 million, has gone to roads, bridges and drainage.

Brown said the projects on the SPLOST renewal are items that are needs, not just a wish list.

“We’re faced with vehicles and equipment we have to buy,” he said. “We’re faced with increased public safety needs. We’re faced with road needs. We’re faced with elections needs. There were more needs, not wants, that the county and cities had and there wasn’t enough money. There are certain things you’ve got to fund, and that’s what you see on this list.”

The cities also have their lists of what they want accomplished through SPLOST, ranging from sidewalks and drainage to public safety equipment.

Among the things the county seeks to get done through a SPLOST extension is work on the 911 and Emergency Management Agency building, along with more room for the elections office, plus a new EMS building, a new health department building to replace the one built in 1977, and a better home for the road department.

“It’s one of the most comprehensive SPLOST lists put together I’ve seen,” Brown said SPLOST also funds historical and cultural activities, such as Dorchester Academy, and can provide a boost to tourism, Brown said.

There also are some projects that have to be put off because the funding won’t be there, such as $2 million for a communications tower on the east end.

“There are some critical, critical infrastructure things that are coming up,” Brown said.

Emergency services have received $17 million from SPLOST since the penny tax started, but Brown pointed out that a new ambulance, without being outfitted with equipment, now costs around $200,000. A new fire engine can run from $800,000 to more than $1 million.

“We used it to fund towers, we used it to fund 911,” Brown said. “Your public safety equipment, your public safety facilities, depend on this.”

While the transportation special option local sales tax is separate and can be used only for roads and traffic improvements, there are some roads and other road work items on the SPLOST list.

Brown also urged that the county does not intend to pave every road, though the county will look at roads where the residents are requesting it to be paved and may pave roads that are very high maintenance.

Brown pointed out the SPLOST on the November ballot is not a new tax and the money raised from the new tax can be used only for those items on the list before the voters. Items also cannot be substituted on the list once it is approved by voters.

“You see what’s on it, you can be assured those items are going to be completed,” he said.

SPLOST funds also can be used as matches for state and federal governments funding on projects.

The Chamber is starting a push to get the word out about SPLOST and pushing for its passage. About 35% of SPLOST revenues come from outside the community, according to the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.

With inflation now at nearly 9%, Brown said it is imperative for local governments to get started on many of the projects before the costs of services and materials continues to grow.

“I don’t know what a growing community, with the needs that we have, the critical needs, would have done without this tax,” Brown said. “It’s just not cheap. I don’t know what we would have done.”

Sign up for our e-newsletters