Originally created 07/24/99

Officials mull tax projects



With five months left before the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) expires, the Columbia County Commission is examining ways such money could be used in the future.

At a workshop Friday, commissioners met with engineer M. Robin Chasman, of Athens-based Chasman & Associates Consulting Engineers, who outlined the process of developing a capital improvement plan. Many items in the plan could be funded with a new sales tax, which is scheduled to go before voters in a July 2000 referendum.

"Our objective is not to have a sales tax passed; our objective is to identify and prioritize capital needs to maintain or improve the quality of life for citizens," Mr. Chasman said. "The success of SPLOST has been due to the fact that citizens understood and believed in the capital improvement program, that it was in their best interest."

Voters twice have approved the sales tax to fund capital improvements.

The first five-year tax collected $27 million, which was used to build Patriots Park. The county is now ending the second collection period, which was approved in 1995 and is expected to reap $41 million for capital improvements.

The emphasis this time has been on transportation needs. Leveraged with Georgia Department of Transportation funds, nearly $70 million in road improvements have been scheduled during the past five years, with only $30 million of local sales tax money used.

In a straw poll, all of the commissioners agreed that transportation will be a top priority in the future. The library is another project that is expected to be high on the list.

"I felt like we never got ahead of where we need to be, and if we don't turn around and do that again, we are going to be behind in terms of population growth," Chairman Jim Whitehead said of road projects funded with past special tax collections.

Commissioners Lee Brooks and Diane Ford said transportation is a major priority in their districts, which have 90 percent of the unpaved roads in the county.

Before a capital improvements plan is made final, three to five public workshops will be scheduled to gain input.

Melissa Hall can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113 or melhall@augustachronicle.com.