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Commissioners discuss revenue during annual retreat

POSTED: March 27, 2013 12:30 a.m.

Hall County officials say they’ll collect less special purpose tax revenue through 2015 than expected, but plan to start preparing for a new collection to start in 2015. 

County staff gave out a timeline for the next special purpose local option sales tax collection, if voters approve one in two years, at the Hall County Board of Commissioners retreat Tuesday morning. The finance and administration departments would start working up a proposed project list starting this September.

Commissioners talked about focusing the next list of projects toward road, water and sewer capital improvement projects.

“SPLOST VII will be hard to pass if we put in a lot of buildings and parks,” Chairman Richard Mecum said, advocating projects that could draw economic development. “We’re going to have to sell this to the community, and planning for the future, I think, is the way to go.”

The first half-day of the retreat was held in a conference room at the Hall County Government Center on Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville. It’ll run another half day today, starting at 8:30 a.m.

The tentative SPLOST VII schedule calls for a finalized project list around September 2014 and holding public informational meetings before calling for a referendum in January 2015. Voters would decide that March.

Commissioners also talked about having citizen advisory and accountability groups for SPLOST VII, similar to the SPLOST 2011 Citizens Advisory Committee that Athens-Clarke County created. County Administrator Randy Knighton said residents need to be involved early on.

“I know that there has been citizen engagement through workshops or what have you, but I think citizens need to be brought into the process a lot sooner,” he said.

Vickie Neikirk, financial services director, and Purchasing Director Tim Sims updated the commission on SPLOST VI, including the current projection that the total revenue will be around $157 million, instead of the previous projection of $162 million or the original projection of $240 million. SPLOST is an important part of the county’s budget because it pays for many capital improvement projects, Neikirk said. Voters approved SPLOST VI in 2009 and it runs until June 30, 2015, but sales tax proceeds have been weak due to the economy.

“What it really boils down to is our SPLOST money is spent,” Neikirk said. “Every dollar is earmarked and allocated.”

The county plans to close its shortfall in SPLOST revenue by cutting about $2.3 million in road projects and nearly $1.7 million in water and sewer projects. Because there’s less tax revenue, the cities will receive about $900,000 less in allocations, although they will still receive the percentage of revenue spelled out in each intergovernmental agreement, county officials said. Gainesville sued Hall County in February, saying Hall County owes it more than $5.3 million because the county agreed in a 2008 agreement to make 48 accelerated monthly payments to Gainesville of $593,750, which was $7.1 million a year, regardless of how much was ultimately collected. County officials dispute that interpretation and have said the city was entitled to and has received about 14.79 percent of estimated SPLOST VI revenues. At the retreat, County Attorney Bill Blalock said if Gainesville prevailed, the other cities could make that claim.

Neikirk and Sims also reviewed the county’s debt situation, including the debt that will be paid by SPLOST VI funds. Hall County’s total debt from all its funds is $59.1 million, which includes interest. After SPLOST VI ends, the county will still owe $38.4 million, including interest, from SPLOST-related projects. The SPLOST fund includes the Mulberry Creek sewer infrastructure projects and the revenue bonds for the planned Glades Farm Reservoir. Debt for the new North Hall Technology Center on Nopone Road, the Hall County Government Center and the animal control shelter will be paid off before SPLOST VI ends. If there’s a SPLOST VII, it would also likely help with debt payments.


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