Columbia County commissioners approved a final project list for the 2017-2022 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax at their regular meeting Tuesday. The vote places the list on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot.
Should voters approve it, the five-year SPLOST is expected to raise as much as $144 million for infratructure and building projects throughout the county and in the cities of Harlem and Grovetown.
Some major items included in the first tier of projects to be funded by the SPLOST are $17 million for a county justice center garage and renovation, $7.6 million for a sheriff’s administration building, $3.4 million for a new Harlem library, and $9 million for a new county cultural arts center and museum.
A total of $9.7 million over five years also is allocated toward improvements and additions to the county’s recreation and parks system.
Tuesday’s vote also approved a resolution allowing the county to reimpose the sales tax and authorizing officials to issue general obligation bonds for up to $15 million to allow funding of some projects before tax revenue is collected.
County Administrator Scott Johnson said there were no plans at this time to issue bonds, but the language needed to be included in the resolution to allow for such action, should commissioners decide it is necessary at a later date. Sales tax revenue, not property taxes, will be used to pay back the bonds, should they be issued, he said.
Some projects that might be moved up include the proposed cultural center and a $1 million upgrade for the fire department’s aging radio system.
Johnson also pointed out that the county just had its AAA bond rating reaffirmed by Fitch Ratings Inc.
Fitch cited the county’s strong finacial profile, a stable econonmy and low debt load among its reasons for awarding the AAA rating.
Officials held a series of public meetings in July seeking feedback from county and city residents on the project list, after which a few adjustments were made to the projected SPLOST money allocated to some projects.
The list also includes $30 million in sales tax funds earmarked for a “sole community hospital provider” – money to be made available for use should the state approve one of three area hospitals that have submitted “Certificate of Need” applications to build the county’s first hospital.
In the case the hospital money is not needed, the county has a $30 million list on contingency projects that could be funded instead, that is dedicated to building and improving parks and recreation facilities throughout the county.
In addition to county-wide projects, the SPLOST plan designates about $8.6 million for Grovetown and $2.6 million for Harlem to use on municipal projects. The municipal distributions were approved in July after a series of intergovernment negotiations, officials said.