Commissioners: SPLOST Referendum Delay Was So Voters Could Learn What SPLOST is For

Citizen Jessica Bennett addressed commissioners during the public comment portion of the meeting, asking about both the budget and the SPLOST referendum expected to be delayed until March 2025.

She asked if any efforts had been made to try to balance the budget without pulling $2 million from the rainy day fund and asked for a status update on the call for a SPLOST referendum, saying “Mr. Akins (county attorney) brought it forward that nothing had been done about the SPLOST being on the ballot by November and due dates were passed and he recommended that you all do what you needed to do in order to get it on a special election that will be next March.”

She noted that it’s expected a special election will cost approximately $25,000 and that voter turnout is often 50% lower than primary elections or general election. 

Chairman Roy Thompson responded to Bennett: 

“I’m going to address the SPLOST…the letters have been mailed out, not mailed out, hand delivered. It was not forgotten, it was a situation that, well, so much going on is not an excuse, and I’m going to tell you just like it is folks. I’ve asked in a couple meetings with a show of hands for those that were for SPLOST and I didn’t see hardly any hands. So, it’s, I guess it was by design that we go into a special election for SPLOST so that the people will really realize the importance of it. And those that did not raise their hands for it, I guess it’s to give them a chance to talk to their neighbors, talk to whomever, and turn it down. But I think when it’s found out what SPLOST is all about, that Bulloch County, this is 1% of the sales tax that people from all over will help us in raising money. I think we would have somewhere between $9 million to $11-12 million per year for six years. If you turn that down, then you’re going to have to answer to the citizens of Bulloch County.

I guess it’s a special invitation to support SPLOST from anyone. I just think that’s one of the best taxes that we can pay and yes it is a tax, it’s sales tax. You can ride to Splash in the Boro, you can ride to restaurants, you can ride to the gas stations around and see how many out of county tags, or out of state tags, there are. These people are helping us obtain SPLOST dollars.

Just this morning I read how much two fire trucks cost – over $500,000. So these monies will be well used by the citizens of Bulloch County.”

Commissioner Jappy Stringer said:

“On the SPLOST, I wanted to reiterate what you said that the, It benefits the county as well as all the cities. And it’s a very intricate thing you had to go through to call for a SPLOST, you can’t just call one up. All the cities and counties have to come up with specific projects for that SPLOST and it has to be presented to the citizens in a way that it’ll be beneficial. 

And it means as much as $18-$20,000 a year for the whole county and cities. So, we have budgeted for that special election where you may spend $20,000-$25,000 for that election, but you get back $18,000 if we can pass it. And SPLOST pays for just about all of our capital projects so, we really have to have it. It’s not something that we overlooked.”

Thompson corrected Stringer, saying: 

“And I think one thing is that we’re going to spend $20,000 when there’s a possibility of getting $18 million per year, not thousands.”

Staff Comments

Staff further clarified, with Cindy Steinman saying it depends on negotiations and what the cities want and end up with, “But also want to point out that last year was a city election year so there was some turnover in Brooklet. It’s not unusual for these things to happen as people are trying to get acclimated to what projects they would like to see moving forward. We always budget for special elections because you can’t predict these things.”

Commissioner Toby Conner also offered comments

“That is a lot of the reason. And a lot of the reason also – there’s so many misconstrued ideas in the public about this SPLOST tax and what SPLOST goes where and where it goes. If you do put it on a special election such as in March, that’s the only thing people’s got to talk about. So it’ll be time for the citizens to understand what they’re voting on, what they’re actually up there talking about, and we’ll have a good educated decision that we can make in March as a group. And if citizens want to do it, we’ll keep it. It was time to get, that was so important to what our budget is that we can separate it now. Everything else will be out of the way and we can focus on this and have a good true opinion throughout Bulloch County.”

Jessica Bennett asked a question for clarification: “So, from y’alls answers are you saying it was intentional to leave it and let it be a special election in March?

Conner: “No ma’am, we’re trying to be positive after the fact, that what happened, we’re trying to be positive of what it was.”

Bennett: And Jeff Akins said he reminded you multiple times, in advance of the dates of when things needed to be done.  The way y’all are talking, it sounds like you’re saying it’s a good thing. It was intentional. It needs to stand alone, we need to let the people of Bulloch County know what SPLOST is and why it’s important.

Conner: “It’s the way it worked out. Like Mrs. Cindy said, you had the other turnover in other municipalities, you know, they have to get acclimated. You throw this in their lap and there’s no telling what you’re going to get and it might end up hurting the county versus helping the county.”

Municipal elections are held in odd years, while county commission elections occur in even years, so there has always been turnover ahead of a SPLOST election, which has historically occurred in even years. Turnover has, in the past, preceded a SPLOST referendum. 

Response to Bennett’s Question on the Budget and Rainy Day Funds 

Chief Financial Officer Kristie King offered comments on the budget.

“We are watching the current fund balance. We’ve had some other growth in other revenues besides taxes this year that were not expected so we’ve brought in more revenue than we planned to and we were sitting on about how much fund balance we wanted so if we have additional fund balance this year, then it is available to be used so we’re not just hoarding money. That’s a way that we can give some money back to taxpayers. We’re hoping to roll back to a revenue-neutral position, which means we’re rolling back not only inflationary growth, but real growth, which is new houses built. So that’s the plan, that’s what we’re hoping to do. We’re not planning to dip below our ideal 25% fund balance.

VIDEO OF THE DISCUSSION:

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Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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