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SPLOST VII revenue eyed to fund unfulfilled budget requests

POSTED: July 1, 2014 1:13 a.m.

Hall County’s “wish list” of projects and equipment to fund through a new five-year round of special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST VII, keeps growing.

Last week, the Board of Commissioners approved about $1.23 million in capital spending in the 2015 fiscal year budget. But more than $2.9 million in new operating, capital and equipment spending requests were made countywide.

County officials are hoping to close that gap through SPLOST VII, with some of those requests that didn’t make the cut being added to the list of potential funding items.

As previously reported in The Times, Hall County has prepared a list of SPLOST VII projects worth about $223 million. This includes public works, public safety, library and parks projects, among others.

Gainesville also has developed a list that includes about $43.5 million in public works, parks, Senior Life Center and public safety projects.

“As the process continues to evolve, a new, refined list will be developed,” said Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton.

But there already is some clarity about what projects not included in the capital budget will likely make the SPLOST VII list.

For example, Hall County Parks & Leisure will receive close to $47,000 in capital funding in the 2015 budget to purchase various equipment.

But requests to build a playground at the East Hall Community Center and pave the parking lot at Cool Springs Park, each costing about $80,000, would need to be funded through SPLOST VII.

Parks Director Mike Little said these projects are a high priority, topping about $5 million in funding his department seeks from the sales tax revenue.

A major point of discussion in the budget negotiations this year centered on just how many new patrol cars to purchase for the Sheriff’s Office.

In the end, funding was approved for 15 cars. The remainder, as well as additional cars needed in future years, will likely be supported through SPLOST VII.

Meanwhile, about $100,000 was budgeted for new cardiac monitors for emergency medical services, but that’s down from more than $500,000 in requests.

Additional funding needed to purchase more monitors will likely find recourse in SPLOST VII.

Other county departments, however, saw their requests go entirely unfulfilled, and it is unclear if they will be supported through SPLOST VII.

For example, the road maintenance division received not a penny for its more than $650,000 in fuel, maintenance and equipment requests.

Requests from fleet maintenance, engineering and the animal shelter also went unanswered in the budget.

Hall County will hold a ballot referendum this fall asking voters to approve the five-year capital funding program — a 1 percent sales tax. If approved, SPLOST VII will take effect July 1, 2015.

SPLOST VI was approved by voters in 2009. Initial projections placed revenue for the county and participating cities at about $240 million over the six-year life of the tax.

But those estimates have now fallen to $152 million.

The latest revenue projection for SPLOST VII stands at $158 million.

Local government officials will likely approve an agreement on SPLOST VII in the coming weeks, with the Hall County Board of Commissioners scheduled to approve a resolution July 24 that would officially put the tax to a vote this fall.

Officials have said SPLOST VII is needed to unburden the general fund. Without this revenue source, the potential exists for property taxes to go up to pay for capital needs.

“For any capital improvements, you have to have SPLOST,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said. “... Eventually, you have to pay the fiddler.”


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