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Millions in sales taxes unspent

Reasons for delays vary

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Augusta is sitting on approximately $150 million in unspent sales taxes, according to an annual report released Friday.

The unspent funds date back as far as 1991, when vot­ers approved Augusta’s second special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST.

From SPLOST II, about $2 million remains in the bank collecting interest. The largest individual item is a $1.39 million project called Walton Way Extension.

A 2005 SPLOST status report described the project more closely as the city's con­tribution to a $22 million Georgia Department of Transportation widening and median effort on Walton Way Extension/Davis Road be­tween Skinner Mill and Washington roads.

Remaining funds from SPLOST III, approved by voters in 1995, swell to $26 million.

About $1 million remains for “resurfacing various streets” in the old city limits from SPLOST III, according to the report. The 2005 status report said the funds were to be spent by 2008 by the newly established “public services” department. Public services was abolished earlier this year, but the funds remain in the bank.

Other $1 million-plus projects yet to be paid out from the 1991 tax according to the report include widening a section of Belair Road and two sections of Windsor Spring Road, resurfacing “various” county roads and a $2 million item at 0 percent completion called the Dover-Lyman project.

Multimillion-dollar drainage projects approved by voters in 2000 but for which little or nothing has been spent, according to the report, in the Hollywood subdivision, Rifle Road area and Augusta Canal contribute to the $37.8 million remaining from SPLOST IV.

Left in SPLOST V, a $160 million sales-tax package approved by voters in 2005 after a $486 million referendum failed at the polls, is some $44 million, although a few of the incompletely funded projects, such as a $41 million expansion at Webster Detention Center and a $3 million “sheriff administration relocation” item are well under way.

Signs of progress on other SPLOST V projects, such as a $4 million Wrightsboro Road item at 0 percent completion and a $1 million redundant fiber ring at 3 percent, are less evident.

Reasons vary

Reasons for the delays in spending vary, according to City Administrator Fred Russell. Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer, who oversees the sales tax revenues and generated the report, was on vacation last week.

Russell said many of the road projects, such as the Windsor Spring Road improvements, await state or federal funds or approval to move forward. Others require more funds than were allocated to complete, and making realistic cost estimates on large, long-term construction projects is difficult, he said.

Sales taxes, viewed by some as fairer than property taxes because nonresidents and residents alike pay them, are an invaluable tool “that has given us an opportunity to do all kinds of things that we couldn’t have done,” according to Russell. “If we didn’t use the SPLOST for things like the jail, it would have been real estate or ad valorem tax dollars.”

Augusta Commissioner Jerry Brigham said the SPLOST was the reason Augusta currently has no long-term bonded indebtedness.

While unavailable to pay for maintenance and operations of the completed projects, SPLOST dollars can be used for project administration. Augusta’s personnel roster classifies some 36 employees as sales-tax administration workers, including three land acquisition agents, 10 equipment operators and nine truck drivers.

Augusta also pays a private firm, Heery Inter­national, and several subcontractors to manage SPLOST-funded building projects.

Reallocation possible

The uncompleted projects are so many that what once was a single-page legal ad became the two-page notice on 12A and 13A in Friday’s editions of The Augusta Chronicle.

The Augusta Commission has the authority to reallocate SPLOST funds from one project to another and frequently does, said Finance Director Donna Williams. The commission can move money from one project to another so long as it remains within the same general category, such as utilities, roads and bridges and cultural/historical, she said.

In July, voters will go to the polls to decide whether to adopt a similar regional sales tax for transportation. The additional penny tax, if approved, will fund many projects already on another one-cent sales tax list.

Tax-reformers also will seek to increase a SPLOST's availability for capital maintenance and operations – which take a toll on Augusta's general fund as more city buildings open – when the Georgia General Assembly convenes.

If approved, the measure will spread the burden of operating buildings among residents and nonresidents alike, Russell said.

LOCAL OPTION SALES TAX HISTORY

Augusta voters approved the first special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, in 1987.

APPROVED COLLECTED UNSPENT

TAXAPPROVEDCOLLECTEDUNSPENT
SPLOST VI2009$184.7 million*$44.8 million
SPLOST V2005$160 million$44.6 million
SPLOST IV2000$163.6 million$37.9 million
SPLOST III1995$138 million$26 million
SPLOST II1991$100.9 million$2 million
SPLOST I1987$82.3 million$0

* capped at $184.7 million

Comments (14) Add comment
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omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 01/02/12 - 01:47 am
0
0
ugh. maybe next time they get

ugh. maybe next time they get around to reorganizing the city charter, they should go to block grants to get things done. allocate a certain amount to each district, and let the residents say which roads need repaving/ect. seems like in this town the left hand dont know what the right hands doing, and foresight is foregone.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 01/02/12 - 03:48 am
0
0
Where is the $150M? Which

Where is the $150M?

Which financial institutions have it?

Susan, THANKS for this article.

seenitB4
84100
Points
seenitB4 01/02/12 - 06:06 am
0
0
I'm sorry but this just blows

I'm sorry but this just blows my mind....one week we are in the tank the next week we have $150million??
The states have how much say so spending this money?

agustinian
678
Points
agustinian 01/02/12 - 07:45 am
0
0
I am so tired of the "false

I am so tired of the "false dilemma" argument, that we either have to have a Splost or property taxes increased. How 'bout this for an idea, no tax increase, and we cut spending?

TrulyWorried
12923
Points
TrulyWorried 01/02/12 - 08:37 am
0
0
How about using the interest

How about using the interest from the money for pay increases for our law enforcement???

Hucklebuck
43
Points
Hucklebuck 01/02/12 - 09:22 am
0
0
Don't be surprised if was 200

Don't be surprised if was 200 million unspent. Our leaders probably been pinching off of it.

InChristLove
22452
Points
InChristLove 01/02/12 - 10:18 am
0
0
TrulyWorried, EXCELLENT idea!

TrulyWorried, EXCELLENT idea!

firstamendment23
0
Points
firstamendment23 01/02/12 - 11:28 am
0
0
Don't let them know that or

Don't let them know that or they will all break their necks trying to spent it and throw it way as quickly as they can. Save it !! That's how the rich get richer.

Little Lamb
44858
Points
Little Lamb 01/02/12 - 11:47 am
0
0
I'm getting about 0.2%

I'm getting about 0.2% interest in my savings account. I wonder what rate the city gets?

Little Lamb
44858
Points
Little Lamb 01/02/12 - 11:50 am
0
0
This $150 million in sales

This $150 million in sales taxes collected but "unspent" is reason number 87 to vote NO! on the next SPLOST referendum. And that referendum is coming up this summer. Watch out!

Little Lamb
44858
Points
Little Lamb 01/02/12 - 11:57 am
0
0
I notice Susan mentions roads

I notice Susan mentions roads and jails, but does not mention the controversial things that SPLOST dollars are spent on, like the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, like the Augusta Symphony, like Augusta Mini-Theater, and two-dozen other boondoggles. Vote NO next time.

scgator
1042
Points
scgator 01/02/12 - 12:08 pm
0
0
First things FIRST; city

First things FIRST; city admin CANNOT have this much money in the bank and NOT know it is there. This is classic "out of sight, out of mind" manipulation. Most voters do not follow along as SPLOST funds are used; admins tend to keep the double talk rhetoric alive so that it is hard to track. Many times, admin when tell you that state law hinders or controls the use of the funds, when in reality they are simply "safeguards" that dictate that the city will use the funds for what they advertised that they would. EX: we cannot take the funds and purchase property for a new ballpark, etc. A word of advice to the Augusta voters......starting out the new year of 2012, DON'T APPROVE ANYTHING NEW THAT REQUIRES COLLECTING MORE TAX. Hold city leaders to accountability and MAKE them act on completing "past" projects. Voters, you have already paid for these projects through your taxes; now FORCE it to happen. If you paid for a product or service in the private sector and never got it, the "selling party" would be in serious legal trouble. Augusta Voters NEED to file a lawsuit ASAP, using the law to make city admin be responsible.

Riverman1
81350
Points
Riverman1 01/02/12 - 12:09 pm
0
0
LL, I say spend the $150

LL, I say spend the $150 million getting rid of the railroad tracks downtown. That would be legal under Splost.

fdn315
2
Points
fdn315 01/02/12 - 03:15 pm
0
0
that'd kind of make the new

that'd kind of make the new bridges to riverwatch pkwy redundant but I love the idea

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